Communication might help between longtime Duluth residents and college students

There's a prevailing sentiment in Duluth's college neighborhoods: Longtime residents wish students were more considerate of their lifestyle. The students have the same request.

There's a prevailing sentiment in Duluth's college neighborhoods: Longtime residents wish students were more considerate of their lifestyle. The students have the same request.

As student housing spills off Duluth's college campuses and into surrounding neighborhoods, the schools have stepped in to ease the tension. Peaceful coexistence is possible -- and communication between neighbors is the key, most agree.

The University of Minnesota Duluth, with the group Campus Neighbors, sponsors neighborhood block parties so permanent residents and students can get to know each other. UMD pays for meal expenses, said Greg Fox, vice chancellor of operations.

UMD's Better Neighbors program appoints a student in each neighborhood to be a liaison for students and families.

"Sometimes it's easier to talk to someone you know than talking directly to problem people," Fox said.


UMD and the College of St. Scholastica educate students who live off-campus about expected behavior. UMD sends pamphlets called "So you're the new neighbor" and St. Scholastica also does a mailing, along with talking to commuters about off-campus living during orientation.

UMD senior Molly Causse heads up the Better Neighbors program. She's had 30 students this year agree to canvass the blocks they live on and collect the names and numbers of college renters.

"I haven't had any students on the blocks not willing to give their information," Causse said. "I think I had one last year."

The students who collect the contact information earn $50 for their efforts, Causse said.

A sheet of that contact information is then given to area residents. Causse said the hope is that residents will use the contact information to call students and address issues before they become full-blown problems.

Most people end up using the contact information for problems such as garbage and noise rather than to complain about parties, Causse said. One person used it to find a babysitter.

Causse said she feels the program has been successful because it opens channels of communication between residents and students.

St. Scholastica applies the same code of conduct to off-campus students as it does for those who live on campus. The college will step in at the request of neighbors, landlords and roommates. Punishments for poor off-campus behavior can range from warnings to expulsion, said Steve Lyons, vice president for student affairs at St. Scholastica.


Many students who get complaints feel the college has no right to intervene, he said, but "we do have the authority, and we will act on it."

Because parking seems to be the most pressing issue, Fox said UMD would be willing to work out solutions for neighborhoods.

Designating on-campus overnight parking lots for students who live near campus is one idea, along with building a lot in a vacant space near campus, he said.

growth creates pressure

Higher-education institutions in the Twin Ports developed in mostly residential areas, Fox said.

"As there's been growth, in all of the schools, the pressure on the neighborhoods has gotten greater," he said. "That's not always true. Some were built in green space away from everyone."

Neighborhoods designated just for college students have long been discussed. Task forces have been formed, and recommendations for six neighborhoods in the city have been made, Fox said, but it's a distant vision.

"In some respects, that is what's developing as some of these properties that were residential become student," he said.


And though he wishes for more private development of apartment-style housing than conversion of residential homes, students still need a place to live, he said.

Campus housing at both UMD and St. Scholastica has filled up this year.

Lyons said it's unrealistic to expect institutions to provide housing for everybody. St. Scholastica requires all freshmen and sophomores to live on campus.

"At some point, many of these students are going to want to live in the community," he said, "and it's a healthy transition for them to do that."

Those who have to or choose to live off campus need to respect the lifestyles of families, Fox said, but families should do the same. Even students who act appropriately may differ from families in the way they live, he said.

Students who study through the night with lights on and friends over can conflict with families who go to bed at 10 p.m., he said.

"There is a conflict that is automatically created that can't really be controlled by, nor should it be controlled by, the law," he said. "It really needs to be worked out between neighbors."

UMD junior Nathan Bronk said meeting neighbors at the beginning of the school year would have helped. The students would feel more comfortable talking to them about problems later on, he said, but now it seems too late.


"We should be able to do, legally, what we want to do in our house," said Tony Printon, a UMD junior and Bronk's roommate.

"As long as it doesn't get too loud," Bronk added.

the landlord's role

Some landlords try to keep students in check.

Lou Hedberg, a real estate agent from Lino Lakes, Minn., bought a five-bedroom house in the 1900 block of East Sixth Street a year and a half ago. His son lives there with four friends. He introduced himself to the nearby residents who aren't college renters, he said.

"We want to be good neighbors," he said. "We want to improve the neighborhood."

He has spent $5,000 improving the property and checks in on the house once a month, he said.

Mark Peacock of Osceola, Wis., owns two duplexes and a house in Duluth; all three are rented to college students.


Peacock doesn't run background checks on prospective tenants, but does call references.

"I try to get some sense of whether they pick up their socks," Peacock said.

He also prefers to rent to women.

"I had a group of guys last year and they're not easy on a house," he said.

Mike Tusken, deputy chief of patrol for Duluth police, said landlords could be fined for excessive use of police services if tenants of a particular residence are uncooperative and become a "substantial burden" to police.

But that rarely happens.

Tusken said landlords will receive a letter warning them of the possibility of a fine if they're called to a property too many times -- three times in one month, for example, or five times in two months -- for the same reason.

That usually takes care of the problem.


"Just the fact that they have a tangible letter in their hand that says they'll be in trouble with the police, they take it seriously," Tusken said. "They work on evicting the tenants or really lay down the law."

Tusken said about 15 such letters are sent out citywide in a year, and about five of them go to properties in college neighborhoods during a given school year.

Colleges and universities want students to act responsibly, but they also want them to feel welcome. Fox said he was concerned by a proposed city ordinance -- which failed -- that would have limited the number of unrelated people living in one house. Renters shouldn't be made to feel like less-legitimate residents of a neighborhood, he said.

"There are lots of reasons to be a renter," he said, and a welcoming atmosphere would do well to keep college students in the city after graduation.

"The future of higher education in Duluth is a key component of the successful future of the city," he said.

West Kent Street resident Karen Kilpo wishes UMD would build more housing, but she understands why her neighborhood is ideal for students. She is happy to coexist, as long as students realize "you aren't living in a dorm if you are living in a house," she said. "Students need to respect the people from Duluth and people from Duluth need to respect the students who are coming in."

What To Read Next
Get Local