By Chris Lipczynski
The Skinny: There are two ways to go when renting in and around Temple University: You can opt for the safety and reliability of a rental agency or you can go it alone and find yourself a genuine North Philly landlord. During my time at Temple I did both, and I would advise prospective renters to seek the assistance of a rental agency.
Here's why: Your odds of finding a sleek, modern living space rivaling those at the Piazza are slim to none. Most likely, you'll end up inhabiting a three- or four-bedroom home on the fringe of the "safe-zone," a home that's been through frat-hell and back several times over.
This means that the vague, persistent smell of Natty Light will pervade your personal space; mice and insects will skitter across the floor; and for some reason the entire basement will be coated in a thin film of stickiness.
Some of these landlords will smile as they tell you that the neighborhood is "completely safe" and that the abandoned crack den down the street should be turned into a 24-hour Taco Bell by the end of the year. But please trust me when I tell you that they are lying.
After a year of paying $1,600 per month for a musty, broken-down townhouse, our landlord ultimately refused to give us back our deposit. "You could have a least rented a rug cleaner!" I remember him saying. Well, we actually did steam all the carpets, but, as you and I both know, even the strongest of Cleveland Steamers cannot remove incense burns that occurred sometime during the Carter administration.
Of course, not all North Philly landlords are bad. But my experience isn't uncommon for students, and is most likely due to the fact that most landlords don't give a damn about their tenants, the house or the neighborhood, for that matter. They simply want your cash and a new renter lined up for next year.
Rental agencies, on the other hand, are a little more hesitant to hoodwink you, considering they have a reputation to uphold among students. There's also the pending threat of litigation, which non-commercial landlords seem to ignore, for some reason.
My college chums and decided to to use Temple Town Realty for our junior and senior years, and we ended up living in a newly remodeled apartment that, when compared to three-bedroom rowhome we rented at 17th and Edgely, seemed like the Four Seasons.
There was no discernible "beer film" or rank-must; we didn't have to call multiple times to fix the thermostat in February. We also didn't have to pay them with cash or a money order. All was as it should have been in rental land, and compared to our friends who were still renting in various finge areas, we lived as kings.
Boundaries: This is, without a doubt, the most important factor when renting in the Temple neighborhood, but it's also the most debated. Your tentative boundaries are as follows: Seventeenth Street to the west, 10th Street to the east and Jefferson to the south, Susquehanna to the north. (You can find places around Girard—far south of Jefferson—but that's not really considered the Temple neighborhood.)
Sure, your friends will swear that their house at Bouvier and Cecil B. Moore is safe ("Hey, there's an elementary school across the street!"). But when you accidentally head west after their Halloween party, you will regret having ever met them.
I admit there are various pockets outside of this boundary that are inhabitable for students, but there's always a risk. The bottom line is that, if it looks sketchy, it's probably sketchy. Those of you who may be currently deciding between a really nice place in a shady area and a broom closet at University Village, opt for the broom closet because your odds of one day making it out of that broom closest are drastically better.