The Irish community in San Francisco has rushed to offer help and support to Ritu Vohra, the landlady whose house was severely damaged by a group of Irish students in San Francisco for the summer on the J-1 visa.
“We’ve been inundated with calls from Irish people in San Francisco and had about 60 emails just this morning,” Consul General Philip Grant told IrishCentral during a phone call yesterday. “A lot of those who have reached out are contractors and people working in the construction industry, and a large number of J-1 students who also want to help with repairs or track down the people involved.”
He said that the Irish Consulate in San Francisco was aware of the individuals who had been staying in the house and was working closely with the owner.
Celine Kennelly, President of the Irish Immigration Pastoral Center in San Francisco, confirmed that the center had also received many inquiries from members of the Irish community looking to help.
“Everyone seems to be shocked, horrified and very annoyed by this news, and keen to repair the reputation of the Irish in San Francisco,” she told IrishCentral.
“A lot of the Irish living in San Francisco did the J-1 program themselves, or have had relatives come over as part of it, or have rented to students. The community does a lot to support them when they’re here, and when you have a group that does something like this obviously it affects everybody. They do not want this to be the abiding memory.”
In an interview with CBS News, Vohra let cameras inside the house, located in San Francisco’s Sunset District. Seven Irish students, ranging in ages from 19 to 22, had been leasing the house, though it has since emerged that at least twice as many people were living there throughout the summer.
The extensive damage includes smashed doors, windows and a banister, broken light fixtures and cabinets, gaping holes in the walls and plaster, and both trash and personal items strewn throughout the property.
Vohra added that the security deposit from the renters would not cover one of the windows that were busted.
She said “It’s okay if you have a great sex life, but leaving dirty condoms and dirty panties on the bedroom floor?
“I was doing it to be nice but this is mini terrorism. This is an act of terrorism on me when you destroy my house like this.”
Vohra, herself an immigrant from India, had previously rented to Irish students and had a positive experience. Because of this, when a group of Irish students arrived in San Francisco earlier this summer to find that the lodging they had lined up was not legitimate, Vohra volunteered to rent her house to them.
“When someone has helped in the past and finds herself in this position, fixing the physical damage is easy but the reputational damage is going to take longer,” Grant said.
That the students were likely aware of Vohra's kind gesture and still acted so recklessly sits uneasy with many, but comments on the Facebook page for the Irish Immigration Pastoral Center show even newly-arrived Irish students willing to help repair the house and their reputation in any way they can.
Over 8,000 Irish students come to the US each year on the J-1 visa, and a little under 1,200 made their way to San Francisco this year.
“Young people need to be aware coming over to the US that if they do something like this, everybody pays,” Consul General Grant said, though he noted that this was not a common occurrence among Irish students visiting San Francisco.
At least two of the students have been in touch with Vohra to apologize and offer compensation. Irish contractors will be visiting the house in the coming days to assess the damage.
Kennelly, who has spoken with Vohra, said that she seemed appreciative of the fact that the Irish community would come forward with offers to help.
She called the outpouring of support a credit to the local community.