December 22, 2010


As students take vacation, thieves go to work

Landlords say student housing is a prime target during winter break at SUNY Cortland

HousingBob Ellis/staff photographer
Student housing along Lincoln Avenue pictured Monday. Landlords and SUNY Cortland tell students to make sure everything is locked and to take home their valuable possessions such as computers and flat-screen TV sets during school breaks.

Staff Reporters

City landlord Gerry Ruggiero knows that when SUNY Cortland students are gone during a break, their houses and apartments become opportunities for criminals.
“I average about four TV sets a year stolen from apartments I own or manage,” said the owner of Cortland off-campus student housing. “I get hit every break: Thanksgiving, Christmas — all of them.”
Streets full of student off-campus housing are prime targets for burglars or even people looking for the thrill of exploring an empty house.
SUNY Cortland and Tompkins Cortland Community College students living in the city have mostly departed for a winter break of up to four weeks, less if they return for winter session.
Landlords and SUNY Cortland tell students to make sure everything is locked and to take home their valuable possessions such as computers and flat-screen TV sets, said Mike Holland, SUNY Cortland’s assistant to the vice president for students affairs.
“If you leave valuables, hide them,” Holland said. “The best thing is to take them home.”
No student rental properties have been reported broken into recently, said city police Lt. Richard Troyer. But they have proven popular targets for thieves in the past, he added.
“It’s a prime location and we’re going to be checking around the student housing,” Troyer said. “The best thing they can do is take their property home, but we check on the properties when they’re gone.”
As with all long breaks, not just for the holidays in December, the main problem is that a lot of local people know the students are gone and their rental homes unoccupied, said local landlord John DelVecchio.
Police are always called when something seems suspicious, but DelVecchio said he tries to keep tabs on the properties when his renters are home for school breaks.
“We haven’t had much trouble, but a lot of times we check if the lights are on and make sure the doors and windows are secure,” said DelVecchio, who rents to about 160 college students.
Regularly checking up on the properties while students are on break from school is one way to keep the rentals safe, he said.
“There’s no way to guarantee it, but if you create some activity on a daily basis, like shoveling sidewalks and stairs, that helps,” DelVecchio said. “If it doesn’t look like there’s people there, those are the ones that are going to be targeted (by burglars).”
But good communication between landlord, tenant and neighbor is arguably the best deterrent, DelVecchio added, recalling one experience last year at a Water Street rental property he manages.
He said a neighbor of one student tenant called at about 10 p.m. during the holiday break after seeing lights on and suspecting something was wrong. The police were called and stopped a man leaving the house with a computer, but it turned out to be a student renter’s friend who was given permission to enter and borrow the computer, DelVecchio said.
“He told us he had permission to be there, we verified it,” DelVecchio said. “But for all we knew at the time, it could have been someone ransacking the place.”
A Trombley Tire & Auto employee prevented a crime on Dec. 23 last year. He called police after noticing three men taking items covered in blankets out of a Groton Avenue student apartment house from the back door during the morning and loading the items into a Dodge Intrepid.
The men had stolen two flat-screen TVs and about 50 Xbox and PlayStation video games from the apartments. The Trombley employee took down the license number and car model, called police, and the suspects were arrested later that same morning as they pulled up to a house in Syracuse where one lived, according to police.
Ruggiero said some landlords now furnish their apartments with expensive flat-screen TV sets, to attract student tenants. He said he collected all of his apartments’ TV sets last week, for storage, but sometimes people break into apartments and knock down doors, looking for valuables.
“I send a letter to the kids, saying anything of value — financial or sentimental — should be taken home, or I will store it for them,” Ruggiero said. “I take the TV sets away, and I leave on a light or two. Over Thanksgiving, two TV sets were taken from houses I manage for another landlord.”


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