STATE COLLEGE — Last summer, in the midst of a furious bout of presidential campaigning that ultimately earned him a win in the Iowa caucuses, Rick Santorum found time to send a letter to residents in one of his five State College condominiums.
Unlike most of the letters Santorum, a former two-term U.S. senator from Pennsylvania and Penn State graduate, has sent out since entering politics, he wasn’t asking for money.
He was demanding it. According to his recent presidential financial disclosure form, Santorum is the landlord of five State College rental properties. Each nets him between $15,000 and $50,000 annually and each is worth between $100,000 and $250,000.
The two-bedroom apartment on the third floor of Beaver Plaza is located inside an aging seven-story building on a downtown street notorious for playing host to drunken student riots, including the November melee after Penn State football coach Joe Paterno’s dismissal.
For the past two years, apartment 306 has been the home of Mallory Kern, a Penn State senior. Last summer, she and her four roommates subleased their apartment.
“It turned out, they were not so good at paying the rent,” Kern said.
Kern said she received a sternly worded letter from Santorum requesting the money owed to him be paid — immediately.
Kern said she didn’t keep the letter, though she was familiar with Santorum’s name and political background.
“I knew he was our landlord, I just didn’tthink much about it,” she said.
Kern’s self-furnished apartment contains two bedrooms, one-and-a-half baths, a living room and kitchen, and rents for $2,300 per month, or $26,400 per year.
Next door to Kern, tenant Jamie Long lives with three roommates in apartment 304, also owned by Santorum. Long found the apartment, at 222 W. Beaver Ave., through the ownership cooperative’s leasing agent, Associated Realty Property Management, and didn’t know the identity of his landlord.
“Wow,” he said, upon learning about his newly discovered connection with a presidential contender. “That’s pretty interesting.”
Long had no complaints about his living situation or landlord, and said Beaver Plaza was nicer than most other places downtown. Though rent is not cheap, it’s not the worst in the area, he said, and students living in the building are willing to pay a premium to live downtown.
A Right to Know request sent to the Centre Regional Code Agency to obtain reports of any code violations at Santorum’s property holdings was not fulfilled by Tuesday. Calls to Santorum campaign spokesman Matt Beynon were not returned on Tuesday.
Many student apartment buildings downtown, including both containing Santorum’s co-ops, are located on East Beaver Avenue.
East Beaver Avenue is “a rather dense concentration of rather old student housing,” said State College Borough Council President Don Hahn, a Democrat. “It’s certainly the location of occasional riots and frequent drunkenness.” East Beaver Avenue is recognized by students as the gathering place to launch a mass celebration or lodge a collective complaint. Thousands of students battled police there after the football team beat Ohio State in 2008, resulting in 21 arrests. Four previous riots took place between 1998 and 2008. Perhaps the largest disturbance took place in November, when a huge crowd blocked traffic, clashed with police and caused thousands of dollars of damage to the street in the wake of Paterno’s dismissal.
The council passed an ordinance a few years ago requiring new student apartment buildings in the borough to have more space per person, Hahn said. Last Friday, cases of beer could be seen cooling on the balconies of Beaver Terrace, 456 E. Beaver Ave., where Santorum owns three other apartments. Inside, hip-hop beats echoed through hallways smelling of fried food.
Greg Palko, a junior living in apartment 603, said he had no problems with his living situation. He, too, was surprised to learn who his landlord was.
“I don’t follow politics that much, but I know who he is,” Palko said.
Come weekends, or even the occasional Thursday night, the complex sees its share of parties, Palko said.
“Weekends usually get fun,” he said.
While Palko said he didn’t care if Santorum won, Kern said it would be “nuts” if he were elected president.
“Then I could say I rented an apartment from the president,” she said.
Then she frowned. “I’ll be gone by the time he takes office,” she said.
As to her subletters’ unpaid rent, eventually, it got paid, Kern said — and she’s pretty sure that doesn’t count as a campaign contribution.
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