In my early 20s I was both a student—and later apartment manager—at the University of Oregon in Eugene. Before becoming a manager I lived in a “converted” garage and once even in a large closet!
So I’ve seen the issue from both sides virtually concurrently. As a student renter I didn’t concern myself with housing standards per se as long as I had the basics—hot water, electricity, etc. As a manager, I had to ensure that tenants (students) were adequately housed overall.
Tenants in my building often disrespected the accommodations—we replaced couches (used as trampolines!) every year, and repainted walls. (Yet, students in my building were really housed well.)
The problem is the priorities of (some) landlords and tenants. Landlords would take a greater interest in maintaining their dwellings if students (or renters in general) wouldn’t trash them. Students would be less destructive if they felt owners were more responsive to them. A rental housing ordinance needs to mitigate the dichotomy between both parties—which can be vast—while making it possible for both to meet their objectives. It needs to encourage more tenant-landlord communications as well.
Upholding building codes is important, but as in the case of Dan DeVaul’s so-called substandard housing, enforcement was overly punitive and inflexible. There should always be a middle ground.