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The pros and cons of living in an apartment building frequented by college students

Ronak Mehta says her apartment building on the George Washington University campus occasionally smells like weed. (Jason Hornick for Express)
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When Carly Puzniak, 25, moved to The Berkshire, she didn’t know much about the massive apartment complex down the street from American University. She definitely didn’t realize that, for many students, “The Berks” is an extension of college.

“It’s very college-oriented, which is great — if you go to AU,” says Puzniak, who recently moved from the complex to an apartment in Mount Pleasant. “It kind of feels like the building people go to when they leave the dorms.”

Apartment buildings near college campuses like The Berkshire are an obvious draw for students ready to live off-campus, but striking the right balance with non-student residents can be a challenge.

Residents say the arrangement has its pros and cons, while universities and apartments have their own methods for keeping the peace.

The downsides
When sharing thin walls with college kids, the most obvious point of contention — and the subject of many a negative Yelp review — is the noise level.

Erica Rodriguez, 21, a junior at American University who lives at The Berkshire, says the sometimes dorm-like atmosphere can make for awkward encounters with older residents and families.

“It can get rather uncomfortable,” she says. “Intimate stuff can be loud. Next-door families might pound on the door or the wall.”

Other renters say noise isn’t as big of an issue.

“Every once in a while on Friday and Saturday night it’s loud,” says Kayla Jasper, 24, a medical school student living at Residences on the Avenue in the midst of the George Washington University campus. “But I don’t have a problem with it.”

John Cohan, director of marketing for Southern Management Corporation, says he doesn’t hear a profusion of noise complaints from their communities. The company manages several apartment complexes in the area, some of which offer discounts or special perks to college or graduate student renters.

“I think students are pretty serious these days,” he says. “From what I hear, they’re good citizens. They’re good residents.”

Cory Peterson, director of Georgetown University’s Office of Neighborhood Life, reminds students to be especially mindful of noise during off hours and weekdays.

“Community members realize on the weekends there’s going to be noise,” he says. “They get that.”

The office has resources on its website to ensure that students make good neighbors, and that they know their tenant rights. If student residents — or their neighbors — do have concerns or complaints, they can email the Office of Neighborhood Life or call the university’s 24/7 help line, Peterson says.

Ronak Mehta, 31, a physician who has lived at Residences on the Avenue since July 2015, says her apartment building has quiet hours, which students seem to keep to. But there are other, unexpected drawbacks. “Sometimes I do feel when I walk down the hall, it smells like weed,” she says.

The perks
There are also some perks to having college kids in your building or neighborhood, Peterson and Cohan note. For example, babysitters, tutors or dog walkers can be right next door.

“Students are looking for other ways to help them pay their bills,” Cohan says.

According to Mehta, another perk is that, because students keep different hours than many other residents who work from 9 to 5, amenities like the gym never seem to be overrun.

Early experiences off campus can prepare students for the realities of rental life.

“We see them as we see any resident,” Cohan says. “They need housing too.”

A happy medium

For students looking for a middle ground after leaving on-campus housing, off-campus apartments that are meant specifically for student renters, like the Towers at University Town Center and The Varsity, might be a good option.

Michelle Dovil, 28, a grad student at Howard University who has been living at the Towers for the past five years, says the benefits include lower prices, lots of amenities and shuttles to Howard and the University of Maryland. “It’s the shuttle that keeps everybody here,” she says.

More about renting in D.C.:

The key to finding a random roommate you’ll love to live with

Want to start a tenant association? Here’s what you need to know first.

Can you grow pot in your D.C. apartment? It depends on who you ask.

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