It's a question straight out of Economics 101: What happens when student housing demand exceeds the available supply?
The answer, neighbors of Stony Brook University say, is that unscrupulous absentee landlords are taking advantage of students seeking off-campus housing near the school.
Now, residents have asked Brookhaven officials to take action against landlords who rent the crowded, oft-unkempt -- and sometimes illegal -- housing.
"We've had a number of investors who decided to enrich themselves by violating our housing code and buying up single-family homes, chopping them up and creating rooming houses specifically catering to students at Stony Brook University," Town Supervisor Edward P. Romaine said Monday to nearly 100 homeowners and civic leaders at the Stony Brook Fire Department.
He announced a resolution to sharply increase fines on landlords who illegally rent houses without the appropriate rental permits. The new fines will be $5,000 for a first offense, increased from $2,000. The second offense will be a $10,000 fine, up from $3,000.
The proposal also suggests changing the rental permit length from two years to one year, and requiring landlords to do rental permit board reviews.
Residents questioned whether the university will ever build enough dorms for the student body of about 24,000.
"The university has to step up also. I think they need to do more," said Tony DeRosa, who lives on Natalie Lane near campus. "Maybe they could look for apartment complexes."
When asked whether the town wants the university to build more dorms, Romaine replied, "It certainly would help."
In the meantime, town Councilman Steve Fiore-Rosenfeld said the university should remind students that they, too, bear responsibility for being good neighbors. "They've got to use the student code appropriately, even if it's off-campus," he said.
University spokeswoman Lauren Sheprow said in a statement the university wants to be a "good neighbor" and is cooperating with the town's efforts. The school wants "to ensure students understand town code requirements and that University approved off campus housing lists do not promote illegal dwellings," she said.
The school's off-campus housing website will start requiring landlords to show proof of rental permit before they can list housing, and the permits will be confirmed with the town, Sheprow said.