On Tuesday morning, members of Alpha Sigma Phi and Kappa Sigma knew two things: both fraternities needed a home for the new school year, and both had leases for 328 E. Fairmount Ave. in State College.
What they didn’t know was who would actually get to live there.
After two hours of testimony and exhibits, Centre County Judge Jonathan D. Grine made the call. The brothers of Alpha Sigma Phi will get to move in.
According to Deborah Blankman, of Roslyn Heights, N.Y., mother of fraternity member Alex Blankman, it all started last year when she signed her son’s lease for the 2015-2016 school year and secured it with a $1,000 check. That represented $200 for a cleaning fee and $800 for a security deposit. She followed that up with a $3,050 check for the first semester’s rent. Both checks, she said, were promptly cashed.
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But in June, the family received an addendum to the lease, changing the address from the house that had been Alpha Sigma’s home for more than 70 years to one a block away and around the corner, 420 E. Prospect Ave., the former home of Kappa Delta Rho, the fraternity that has been suspended by Penn State for three years after an investigation of allegations of hazing and other illicit activity documented on its secret Facebook page.
The Prospect Avenue house was listed as a nuisance property by the borough in May.
But according to Greek Housing Services President Mark Maloney, the majority owner of the Fairmount property, the problems actually predate this year’s leases. He claimed in court that the Alpha Sigma Phi brothers have had a history of violations that rack up points in the borough’s nuisance property ordinance, making it possible for the property to lose its licensure to host college students, meaning a possible loss to his company of up to $250,000 for a one-year suspension.
He also brought in large color pictures of the damages he said the fraternity had done to the property. Broken windows, splintered doors and graffiti were on vivid display. Add in fire hazards and a recent drug arrest by a fraternity member who was subsequently dismissed and evicted, and Maloney painted a picture of a bad apple fraternity that was in constant trouble and posing a risk to his business investment.
That was why he turned to Kappa Sigma, offering the house to the brothers of that fraternity, who he said were a better risk, with just one point on their property in recent years, and that one was for littering.
When all the leases were signed and the money collected, Alpha Sigma Phi had 27 brothers signed up for the property. There had been 33, but three didn’t pay their deposits, and three more asked to have them refunded. Kappa Sigma, on the other hand, had 32.
It might have all been OK. Alpha Sigma Phi might have been miffed at moving, but Maloney said in court the Prospect property was actually nicer than their original home. It also had surveillance that could cut down on the vandalism, which some of the brothers said was actually perpetrated by rival fraternities, possibly explaining why some of the colorful tagging included another group’s Greek letters.
But the Prospect property is still not available. According to borough Manager Tom Fountaine, permission was denied for occupancy on Friday. Maloney said he is continuing to work with the ownership of the property and the borough on getting permission for Alpha Sigma Phi to move there, but Fountaine said that is not imminent. Maloney said the latest possible date it could happen would be Nov. 14, the date the nuisance property designation will expire.
The hearing sought an injunction to make sure the Alpha Sigma Phi residents could occupy the building. Maloney asked that be denied, saying the fraternity would step up its vandalism of the property out of retaliation. Grine questioned that, saying it seemed as likely that there would be retaliation at the new property after being relocated. Maloney said the owners of the Prospect property were willing to share the risk.
Ultimately, the judge decided that the contracts executed by Alpha Sigma Phi in 2014 took precedence over the 2015 leases with Kappa Sigma. The brothers have to post a $10,000 bond with the court to guarantee their good behavior by Friday.
Their attorney, Jim Bryant, said the fraternity members are aware of their responsibilities going forward.
“I don’t think they’re going to schedule a bacchanalia,” he said.