An Update to the Mini-Dorm Article – PLEASE READ!

After the Mini-Dorm article was published in the Union Tribune, people started writing in to the Letters to the Editor section with their comments.  This really infuriated me because I wasn’t even given much credit in the article, yet these people writing in with completely ignorant opinions were published in full.  Please Read:

From Letters to the Editor:

The volatile mix of mini-dorms, residents

Regarding “Mini-Dorms, but Many Problems” (Our Region, March 7):

After reading this story, I felt sorry for the neighbors of those mini-dorms. Students urinating and leaving garbages in their lawns, ouch! But the city’s “solution” – preventing a property owner from renovating – is just insane. If you cannot renovate, you will still end up with seven tenants in a three-bedroom house.

There is only one solution to this and that is to discipline the students. As for the mini-dorm owners, they should better manage their tenants and make them behave so this conflict won’t arise again. The city has a lot of things to worry about other than landlords who do not watch their tenants.

San Diego

They’re educating people and can’t figure out that congregating 33,000 people in one area (with plans for increasing university enrollment to 45,000 by 2025) on a daily basis and creating a need for housing is going to impact a small, single-family residential neighborhood? Somebody send these people to college.

San Diego

The piece on mini-dorms was more notable for what was shown in the pictures than what was said in the article. Featured was a picture of a female student hoisting a glass of wine with her roommates. Well, most college students are below the legal drinking age and, while I cannot pretend to know this young woman’s age, your photograph is very irresponsible.

There have been a number of multiple fatalities in the last year involving drunken college students. When I went to college there were four to six hours of studying to do after dinner, and alcohol does nothing to increase comprehension nor retention.

If I were the president of SDSU, I would – or should – be embarrassed to see the student body portrayed as a bunch of party animals majoring in the fine arts of wine consumption and online computer games shown in your other photograph. You have certainly managed to reinforce the stereotypes already associated with San Diego State University – that of an academic institution sorely lacking in academics.

Your pictures show why normal residents in these neighborhoods are fed up with it. Party animal college students with cars parked all over the streets do not mix well with most residents. Particularly for people who have invested their life’s savings and a significant part of their monthly incomes in their mortgages, only to see their neighborhoods destroyed by the selfish, self-centered, irresponsible and immature behavior of the college students shown in your pictures.

San Diego

And My Response:

Since its obvious how legitimately my views were taken in print, I’m hoping that some more reasonable adults can be educated by reading this online. Not to mention that 99% of what I said in the phone interview with Ms. Saavedra was not even mentioned in the print article.

First of all, I have to respond to the above editorial comments by Mr. David Cox: The “selfish, self-centered, irresponsible and immature behavior of the college students shown in your pictures.” – What, exactly is selfish, self centered, irresponsible or immature about anything in the above pictures? I see 4 people having a community meal together, enjoying each other’s company after a long day of school, work, and studying.

Well, most college students are below the legal drinking age and, while I cannot pretend to know this young woman’s age, your photograph is very irresponsible.”– This is possibly the most ridiculous, inane comment I have ever heard. There are 6 people that live in our house, ALL of which are over the legal drinking age. What would possibly lead you to believe that anyone was not? To preface it by saying you know that most college students are below the legal drinking age really just goes to show how out of touch you are with the current college culture THAT YOU ARE COMPLAINING ABOUT. Most students take over 4 years to graduate, I myself just finished 5.5 years of school, graduating at the age of 24. And no, it was not due to excessive drinking, the schools I have attended have been completely IMPACTED making it very hard to get the right classes to graduate.

When I went to college there were four to six hours of studying to do after dinner, and alcohol does nothing to increase comprehension nor retention.”-This is the only thing in your entire letter that you were correct about. There still IS four to six hours of work after dinner, but where you differ from us is that we can RESPONSIBLY enjoy a glass of wine before hitting the books. I can hardly expect you to understand this since there is nothing in your letter to even qualify yourself as someone who ever attended college…all I can assume about you is that you are another disgruntled homeowner mad at seeing his property value drop as the houses around you are rented by students.

If I were the president of SDSU, I would – or should – be embarrassed to see the student body portrayed as a bunch of party animals majoring in the fine arts of wine consumption and online computer games shown in your other photograph.”– Apparently when (or if) you attended school, any form of relaxation or entertainment was strictly out of the question. Let me clarify something for you, sir. You are NOT the president of SDSU, nor do I think you have any association with the school for that matter. Your letter shows nothing but your ignorance about the college you are so desperately trying to discredit. I just graduated with an Information Systems degree from one of the top business schools in the country, and SDSU is turning out more qualified and distinguished graduates than many other schools, but the farthest your generation can see is that it houses them in “Mini Dorms”.

Your letter, Mr. Cox, is the only selfish, self-centered, irresponsible and immature example of behavior regarding this entire issue. I offered the paper the opportunity to take pictures of my home to show that, contrary to what you would believe, we DO NOT live like animals packed in a “mini dorm”. 6 of us live comfortably in a large house with ample room. Not that your comments would make us seem so, but we are human beings that enjoy living in a clean and responsible environment.

What I would like to see, for once, is the homeowners in the area make a significant effort to bridge the gap between college students, rental home owners, and themselves. Instead of writing editorial comments like the ones above, or holding their City Council “clubhouse” meetings, do something that can satisfy all parties. A regular argument I hear to that is “we hold city council meetings to discuss the issue, but students never show up, they obviously don’t care about the issue”. This is completely ridiculous. Do you ever wonder why students don’t show up to combat the ridiculous charges against them? You hold the meetings around YOUR OWN SCHEDULE with no regard to the parties you want to attend. I have always wondered if this was done on purpose to discourage students to show up and portray their own side of things. It’s like if students got together and had a meeting about the issue at midnight every Thursday night. How many homeowners would attend? Would it be appropriate of us to assume you didn’t show up because you didn’t care? I would like to see the homeowners have the motivation to attend a meeting after being in class since 8am, in and out of the library 4 times during the day, working a 6 hour shift and then heading back to the library for a group meeting until 11 BEFORE even starting any form of homework, and then making it on time to a meeting where their voices would be IGNORED anyway. The hypocrisy of this situation just makes me furious every time I think about it.

I guess the blame isn’t 100% yours, Mr. Cox, for being so completely naive in your outlandish comments. I don’t credit the newspaper with printing a very unbiased article. I was interviewed multiple times by Ms. Saavedra, and she took down a lot of information from me. I was actually under the impression that there was a genuine interest in portraying the students side of the story. After all, we are the ones forced to pay ridiculously high rent to live somewhere convenient to access the school. I didn’t know how wrong I was.

Homeowners portray themselves as the victim in this issue, but does any one care to see the other side? Since it appears most of my words and opinions were lost in Ms. Saavedra’s interview, maybe I can get a few of them across in here:

First, a little bit about myself. I’m 24, and just graduated from SDSU with a BS degree in Information and Decision Systems. I made into and through the ridiculously impacted Business Program, and now work as a Junior CRM Administrator for the #5 fastest growing privately owned business of 2006 in San Diego, and an Award Winning software company. I work on the top floor of our building in downtown San Diego, and yes, I still live in the college area. During school I also was a member of a Professional Business Fraternity on campus (It is a business organization, focused on Resume development and interviewing skills, not a social fraternity as I’m sure Mr. Cox would have anyone believe), and am now an active Alumni. I have lived in the college area for three years, all of them in “mini dorm”type housing. Hopefully those credentials establish me as someone who can give a valid opinion about this entire situation, having experienced ALL aspects of it.

Second, this term “Mini Dorm” really makes me angry. They won’t admit it, but it is a term intended to degrade and devalue students living in rented housing around the college area. They know, I know it, everyone knows it. Why do we feel this way? Well, you live in the dorms as a Freshman, on campus. I have not lived in any “dormitory” style housing except for my freshman year of college. I find it offensive that “adults” (I put it in quotes not because I don’t consider myself an adult, but because I don’t want to group myself with these selfish, self centered homeowners who criticize me) use this term. I live in a home, I pay for ALL of my rent, as do most of my roomates, without any help from parents or anyone else. I pay ALL of my utilities. I pay my car insurance, I pay for EVERYTHING I have including my big screen tv, classic car I am restoring, the wine glasses I booze out of and even the computer I play games on all the time and am typing this on. I am in no way a freshman or involved in any sort of “dorm” lifestyle. I consider myself, and am considered, a completely self sufficient, responsible adult. So please, refer to us as “renters” or “young adults” even, but we definitely do NOT have anything to do with a “dorm”.

Third, I am not writing this response to say we are not to blame, or that we have no responsibility in the matter, because we all do. There are always two sides to every issue, and years of disrespectful college students have perpetuated this issue up to the point it is at now. However, that is not to say that we don’t have rights as well. Read the response I wrote to my landlord below. What gives angry homeowners the right to accuse us of things that are completely FICTIONAL. Why am I made to justify myself to police and others just because I am a recent college student, and a renter! The one mention I had in the article, about police calls being trumped up is completely true. My letter below is further proof of it. Kareoke machines! Riots! Amplified Instruments! These are completely FALSE based on what! An angry neighbor wanting police to respond at their every beck and call. I’m sorry if we aren’t on the same schedule, but what gives you the right to call the police if I want to listen to my music at 10pm because you go to sleep at 9, when you can wake up at 6am and begin construction on your house and I want to sleep! Apparently we have no rights in this situation, because time and again, Police show up for a noise complaint based on completely made up charges. Who are the immature people in this situation, I ask you?

Which brings me to my next point, the CAPP program. The “College Area Party Plan”. What exactly are the rules of the CAPP program, one might ask? Well, good luck finding out. I have lived in CAPPed homes for the entire 3 years I have lived near SDSU. This is a tactic of homeowners to scare renters into thinking that they have NO rights at all, and can be arrested at any time. A house can be capped if it receives a certain number of noise complaints in a period, or if a group of 5 neighbors in a certain radius sign paperwork agreeing that the house is a nuisance. This is another example of our rights being stripped away. What they don’t tell you is that the CAPP stays with the house. This means that since most rental houses in the college area are already CAPPed, chances are you are going to be moving into one. Technically (found out after speaking to the SDSU CAPP officer for our area) the CAPP can be lifted by proof of the landlord showing he brought in new tenants to solve the problem. We jumped through these hoops when we moved into our current house, which was already capped by the previous tenants. But it was to no avail, every time we called or had our landlord call, it was necessary to talk to someone else, or call at a different time. I have lived with this for three years and come the the conclusion that YOU CAN NOT GET THE CAPP OFF. We have toyed around with the idea of getting some other students in nearby rentals to band together and attempt to CAPP a neighbors house, but you see how seriously they take any of our complaints.

These Cop-calling neighbors have grown so used to filing a noise complain at the slightest sound, that the police really don’t seem to take it seriously any more. Plus, noise complain calls get routed out to the closest cops nearby, which can either be SDSU police, or mid city cops. Most thurs-sat nights they are so busy busting frat parties and other issues, that by the time they actually show up to check on a suspected noise violation, there is nothing going on. In addition, the Mid city cops never know if a house is CAPPed, and are completely unfamiliar with the area. This is not to admit we are doing anything wrong however…the normal noise complain visit from the police is for having 10 people over to shoot some pool, or even watching a movie too loud. We have grown accustomed to seeing a cop car pull up out front, and all we ever do is invite the police into our home to see that there is nothing going on. In three years and at least 50 visits from the police, I nor my roomates have ever been issued a ticket, citation, or anything more than a warning. The police never want to come in, usually seem annoyed that they had to show up to another false noise complaint call, and just tell us to please be quiet. Why are our rights continuously violated! Not to mention that this is a complete waste of taxpayers dollars! Police need to be out arresting DUI’s and people that are actually doing harm to our society, not students trying to relax after a long day of school and work! In that “riot” call that a neighbor called in on us, the police had to send out a helicopter to circle our house! THERE WAS 15 PEOPLE PRESENT. What a waste!

I hope these thoughts have shed some insight into the situation that is going on around SDSU. This is in no way strictly the student or renters fault as people like Mr. Cox would have you believe. We are humans too, and deserve equal treatment and rights under law. I have to return to Mr. Cox’s quote because I just don’t think I can say it any better.

Who is being more “selfish, self-centered, irresponsible and immature” than the people accusing us of it? Watch out when pointing fingers, Mr. Cox…I think you have forgotten that there are three fingers pointing back at you.

-Ian Grist

The original article:

So in case you didn’t have a chance to read the Union Tribune article:

City Council to address disputes over student housing


“Ian Grist, Dana Cholish, Evan Grist and Micaela Castroneva (from left) talked after finishing dinner one night. The four share a mini-dorm in the College Area with two students from San Diego State University. Mini-dorms are an increasingly common way to house the large number of SDSU students who want to live near campus.”

COLLEGE AREA – Michael Haaland doesn’t look like a real estate mogul. In jeans, a button-down shirt and Adidas sneakers, the 25-year-old looks like he should be tending bar in Pacific Beach.


Instead, Haaland and a former fraternity brother, Ian Sells, are the businessmen behind more than 100 mini-dorms in San Diego’s College Area since 2000.

The growing trend – buying single-family homes, adding bedrooms and renting them to students around San Diego State University – has ignited anger among longtime residents who say the resulting late-night parties and loud music aren’t compatible with neighboring families.

The city wants to tighten controls on mini-dorms by restricting a property owner’s ability to renovate. At a meeting today, a City Council committee will discuss that and other options, such as reducing the number of parking permits issued to residents and adding a code enforcement position in partnership with SDSU.

Haaland and Sells think the city is kidding itself trying to stop mini-dorms around SDSU. The university serves 33,000 students on its main campus, but provides housing to accommodate 3,800. An additional 600 live in fraternity and sorority houses.

earplugs to block out the noise emanating from the house next door. Sometimes he couldn’t hear his own TV.

“I’ve never seen a quiet mini-dorm,” he said. “There is no such thing. This is an issue that has affected hundreds of homeowners and destroyed the quality of our life. Many people have just moved off.”

Paved front lawns

Haaland and Sells aren’t the only people buying, managing or converting mini-dorms. But they are a major force behind the trend. These entrepreneurs each had the same idea when they were SDSU undergraduates.

Haaland, who was a political science major, hated the dorms, and Sells, who studied real estate, couldn’t find affordable housing. So they persuaded their parents to buy homes near the campus where they would live and rent out rooms to their friends.

Sells, 25, graduated in 2004 and considers the mini-dorm business a hobby, though he is a full or partial owner in 10. With 22-year-old partner Brandon Blum he manages 60, including the ones he owns.

Like many mini-dorms, homes that Sells oversees have had garages converted into bedrooms, other rooms added and walls built to create even more bedrooms. In the early days, Sells sometimes advertised dens and offices as bedrooms, and he paved over front lawns to offer enough parking.

Stricter rules in recent years have made it harder for landlords capitalizing on the student housing shortage. Last year, the city tightened its definition of what a bedroom is. That’s important because in larger houses, anyone adding bedrooms must add parking spaces.


Sells had to switch gears. Now he won’t purchase a home that he can’t easily and affordably turn into a six-bedroom home. He stressed he has always done everything legally.

Haaland and Sells say they aren’t getting rich on these conversions. At a house on Dorothy Drive, Sells said he collects $3,700 a month from six tenants, while the monthly mortgage on the home he bought for $500,000 is $3,600.

“What people don’t understand is that you don’t make money on the rents,” he said. “You make money when you sell the house.”

Couches on roofs

Haaland, who estimates he has had ownership in about 20 College Area rental homes since 2000, offers a package deal to investors. Haaland, a licensed real estate agent, finds houses appropriate for expansion. He lines up investors to buy them and a construction company to add bedrooms and parking spots. He has turned about 50 houses into mini-dorms that way, and more investors are “banging on my door,” Haaland said.

“That’s my talent. I can create a package,” he said. “I make sure everything’s legit.”

A house under renovation on Rincon Street, less than a half-mile east of campus, is a current example of Haaland’s handiwork. It’s a three-bedroom home that an investor bought for $555,000.

The inside has been gutted. Workers are adding three bedrooms in what used to be the backyard, and the garage is becoming a seventh bedroom. Each room probably will rent for $600 to $700.



A newly paved strip in the back will provide five spaces to meet the city’s parking requirements. Residents say this type of thing is ruining their neighborhood.

“It’s just a mess,” said Bernd Helmke, who lives next to a Dorothy Way mini-dorm and wishes investors would quit adding bedrooms to their properties to cram in more students.

“The kids will put couches on their roofs just to sit there and catch some rays and look cool,” Helmke said.

Cathleen Kenney said her Joan Court cul-de-sac gained three new mini-dorms in eight months, bringing tenants who must be told not to park on front lawns or block neighbors’ driveways. Keg parties often mean 50 to 60 guests sharing a few bathrooms.

“You even have girls dropping trouser to urinate out in the public,” Kenney said.

Sells said longtime residents unfairly blame mini-dorms because they don’t like the fallout of living near an expanding university.

“The college students are surrounded by people who are 70, 80, 90 years old,” he said. “I’ve talked to some of these people and I’m like, ‘Why don’t you just sell your house and move into a nice community where you have a lot of nice amenities? That’s what everyone’s doing these days.’ ”

It’s not just the homeowners who feel harassed. Mini-dorm tenants say they often feel under attack.

Recent SDSU grad Ian Grist has lived in two mini-dorms over three years, and currently leases a home from Sells on Dorothy Drive. Grist, a computer database administrator, has five student roommates.

Police have visited his home 30 to 40 times over the years to respond to complaints. Grist said he has never been cited or fined. Often the complaints are trumped up, he said. Once, a reported “riot” was really a party with 15 students, he said. Police declined to comment on any specifics yesterday.

In response to neighbors’ complaints, Haaland said that mini-dorm landlords should be accountable for their tenants. He said he evicted six in the past six months for noise complaints.

Sells said he has become a better landlord, responding more swiftly to complaints. He also plans to require renters to sign a letter outlining the neighborhood rules.

Haaland has a message for City Hall: Embrace student housing. SDSU’s enrollment is projected to grow to nearly 45,000 full-and part-time students by 2025.

Students, Haaland said, have to live somewhere.

Sherry Saavedra: (619) 542-4598; This article prompted the following editorial responses in today’s copy of the Union Tribune:UNION-TRIBUNE March 12, 2007

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