NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) — When you send your kids to college, you hope they’ll be safe regardless of whether they live in a dorm room or off campus.
But could their landlords be taking advantage of them? Or worse, putting their lives at risk?
“Every year I went to Boston to parents weekend,” Xu Mei Kwong told CBS2’s Christine Sloan.
But instead of visiting her daughter’s school this fall, Kwong will be visiting her grave site.
“I miss her so much,” she said.
Kwong’s 22-year-old daughter, Boston University senior Binland Lee, was about to start graduate school when she was killed in a house fire in 2013.
“My heart is broken,” Kwong said.
Lee was trapped in an illegal attic bedroom.
She was one of 126 students killed in off-campus housing fires nationwide over the last 15 years, many of which experts say are the fault of some landlords who cut corners.
“Both the fire alarm system and the second means of egress didn’t exist,” said family attorney Albert Farrah.
Flooded basements, moldy walls, broken appliances, and bug infestations — all conditions that have also been found in off-campus housing.
“Landlords have very little incentive to maintain their properties,” said rental expert Mark Abramowicz, with Jump Off Campus.
Because students don’t often demand it, Sloan reported. Couple that with a high turn over rate and Abramowicz said off-campus housing horror stories have become all too common.
“In addition to a lack of oversight in college towns across America, there are tons of rentals and it’s really hard to make sure everyone is up to code,” Abramowicz said.
Code that requires landlords to maintain the property, including adequate fire exits and smoke alarms.
But time and time again, Tim Knisely with the nonprofit organization Center for Campus Fire Safety, said he finds violation after violation.
So Sloan went along with him and found that it’s not always at the hand of the landlord.
“This extinguisher is discharged,” said Knisely.
Sometimes the hazards are also created by the tenants.
“(Sloan: Are you seeing something here that you shouldn’t be seeing?) The couch, it’s going to prevent a firefighter from coming in and making a rescue,” said Knisely.
On Wednesday, Knisely was inspecting off-campus housing near Bloomsburg University in Pennsylvania.
“(Sloan: You’re glad he walked in here?) Yea, yea, he’s given us a bunch of knowledge,” said Benjamin Moore, 22.
Knowledge that Kwong wishes her daughter had. She’s now suing the landlord.
“To let the world know about what is happening with students and the pain that she is suffering so that other parents do not suffer the same,” said attorney Raymond Wong.
Because no amount of money, her attorneys said, can ease her loss.