Fire truck

On Wednesday, August 16, reportedly at 8:56 am, a multiple alarm fire erupted in a large student rental house at 1996 Iuka Ave in the heart of fraternity row in the historic residentially zoned University District. Ten student renters were evacuated safely by the fire department as towering flames spread more than 10 feet above the third floor of the old house. They are without their overpriced housing just days before classes begin.

Not at all surprisingly, given the fact as I recently reported, the City of Columbus Zoning (Anti)-Enforcement Department, The Ohio State University, and the absentee property owners have colluded secretly and illegally not to enforce zoning laws and conduct regular inspections, two smoke detectors did not operate. The fire men on site informed me that the cause was electrical failure.

If the laws were enforced; paying tenants’ and neighbors’ lives and rights respected; and basic humanity and civility practiced, none of this would take place. But this is Columbus and OSU, where everything is for sale and human lives a matter of disinterest, in other words, not part of the profit or business model. This is the Columbus and the OSU Way.

The property is listed in the Franklin County Auditors records under the ownership of North Campus Rental Properties. That is a shadow name for NorthSteppe Reality, the most disreputable, complained about, frequently sued, and lawless among the large absentee landlords. Student tenants have died in their properties. A class action suit is moving slowly through the courts against owner Michael Stickney for cheating on utility bills, repairs, damage deposits, and basic upkeep. (HomeTeam and OSUlive run a close second and third in the competition for unpunished criminality.)

It is not accidental that Michael Stickney has donated more than $5 million to OSU and has been listed on the university website as OSU Student Housing. He is a private property owner not university housing. He is not an OSU alumnus and does not live in Columbus.

OSU sent no notice or warning to any of its lists.

My neighbors and I are speaking to all students and parents helping them move into rental properties. We are urging them to demand that their landlords immediately inspect all alarms, detectors, and electrical systems, and provide proof in writing. That is their legal right. Of course, it is not in the interest of Student Life or Off-Campus Student Services to assist the students. In the Buckey Way, the student should ask WWBD: “what would Brutus Do.”

Despite requests from residents, local media (like the Columbus Dispatch) ignored the story. Two TV stations and the OSU student The Lantern non-newspaper blew the story (to use the journalistic technical term). Of course, OSU’s journalism department is ranked lower than 100 in the US. No oner reported on the causes of the fire, the lack of inspection, or property ownership.

The failing The Lantern asserted that the house is “beloved” and “often called ‘Camelot House’ and “Home on the Hill.” No one, including residents of decades has ever heard those monikers. If it was once “beloved,” that has long vanished from human memory. Of course, no sources—print, online, or human—are ever cited. The student reporting is unusually fabulous.

To make matters worse, the property owners began major repairs within hours with no inspection or approval. This too is illegal. But we know….

The August 16 near-tragedy took place just two days before the unusually late, uncontrolled, disorderly, and unpoliced “move in” period began just 3-4 days before classes. Move in to on-campus dorms was compressed into two unusually late days. This action actually resulted in Highway 315 being partly closed over the Aug. 18-20 weekend. OSU assaults all of Columbus.

In my neighborhood, the Columbus Police Department was completely unrepaired. I had to call CPD several times and was hung up on twice. One officer denied the words of the law. Another informed me—unbelievably, illegally, and illogically—that if he by himself could not enforce the laws equally on all offending parties, he would not enforce any law against any offender. Thus, an Enterprise rental delivery truck blocked East Frambes Avenue for more than one hour and polluted the air for more than 2 ½ hour. This was a delivery to the new apartment building owner Schiff Properties. The offenses as well as illegal trespassing on private property was just fine with the Schiff employee on duty. The new owner of the student rental building, one Jared Schiff, only allowed his tenants to move in late with major repairs on the roof still in process. Schiff sees no problems with any other this.

After all, this is Columbus, Ohio, and The Ohio State University


Harvey J. Graff is Professor Emeritus of English and History at The Ohio State University and inaugural Ohio Eminent Scholar in Literacy Studies. Author of many books, most recently he published Searching for Literacy: The Social and Intellectual Origins of Literacy Studies. My Life with Literacy: The Continuing Education of a Historian. The Intersections of the Personal, the Political, the Academic, and Place is forthcoming. “Reconstructing the new ‘uni-versity’ from the ashes of the ‘multi- and mega-versity’” is in progress.