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Curbs sought on off-campus SJU students

Close to 200 people packed Hillcrest Jewish Center’s auditorium Monday night to express their displeasure with St. John’s University students living off-campus who residents, said hold raucous parties, run around naked or in little clothing, publicly urinate and leave litter around the neighborhood.

“There are parties, music until all hours of the night, they’re holding lingerie parties, there’s broken glass and beer bottles on cars, garbage in the streets,” said Howard Fried, the meeting’s moderator and president of the Jamaica Estates Association. “This shouldn’t happen in a residential neighborhood, in any neighborhood.”

The Jamaica Estates Association sponsored the Monday night meeting, which was attended by city Department of Buildings officials, state Sen. Frank Padavan (R-Bellerose), state Assemblyman David Weprin (D-Little Neck), City Councilman Mark Weprin (D-Oakland Gardens), 107th Precinct commanding officer Capt. Michael Coyle and representatives from St. John’s.

Fried said the forum comes after several years of problems residents have had with SJU students in off-campus housing. Besides displaying unneighborly behavior, residents said more students often live in the units than is legal.

Anthony Iuliano, a communications officer from the DOB, noted that no more than three unrelated people may live in one unit together. Residents said it is not unusual to have seven or eight students living in the same house, which they said could pose serious issues in the case of a fire.

Padavan said his office has received a countless number of complaints about SJU students and called on the university to take a more hard-line approach to students living illegally in neighborhood homes.

“I want St. John’s in their student manual to say students who are breaking the law will be called in and action will be taken, such as suspension or expulsion,” Padavan said.

SJU officials said they are in the process of creating a manual about living off campus for students, which will emphasize the fact that they must engage in good neighborly behavior and legal activities.

Joseph Sciame, vice president of community relations at St. John’s, said it can be difficult for them to monitor students in off-campus housing because they do not always know where the students live.

“But we want it known: St. John’s will never, never condone the kind of behavior people were talking about here tonight,” Sciame said. “We agree it’s completely unacceptable.”

Padavan suggested St. John’s remove student aid from a pupil who has been cited as engaging in illegal behavior off campus, though Sciame said it was not legal for them to strip federal financial aid from students. Padavan emphasized, however, that he would like to see St. John’s remove scholarship aid given by the college itself.

Jose Rodriguez, dean of student life at St. John’s, said the school had suspended students found to be engaging in illegal activities in off-campus housing last year.

“There have got to be some ramifications for students acting outside the university,” Mark Weprin said. “We can’t have this destroying our neighborhood.”

David Weprin noted that while the students have acted poorly in the neighborhood, the real estate agents who rent houses to more students than is legal should also be responsible. Padavan said he has sponsored legislation that would strip agents of their licenses if they are found to have rented illegal homes — a bill David Weprin said he would look into sponsoring in the Assembly.

Coyle also said he would work with his police officers to crack down on illegal student homes and individuals who are disrupting the peace.

Reach reporter Anna Gustafson by e-mail at agustafson@cnglocal.com or by phone at 718-260-4574.

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