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The Tufts Daily
Where you read it first | Sunday, April 14, 2024

Competition pressures students to sign leases for off-campus housing early

This year, the scramble to find off-campus housing started even earlier than in previous years, with many students signing leases for next year starting as early as the beginning of September. Students have noted that the level of panic among students about finding off-campus housing seems even higher than last year at this time.

After the crises of many current juniors to secure housing late in the last academic year, many students reacted by searching for next year's housing within the first few weeks of arriving back on the Hill this fall.

"We heard from our upperclassmen friends that you have to look for houses early in the year," sophomore Kentaro Okazaki said. "We knew we had to be really quick about it before other people take all the houses and before we run out of time."

Okazaki said he and his roommate began their search in September, and recently signed a lease with four other friends. An upperclassman friend who is graduating in the spring currently rents the house, which helped the group's search process.

"We were lucky because we knew this upperclassman who was looking for underclassmen to give her house to. So it worked out well," Okazaki said.

Other students, however, have not been so lucky.

President of the Sophomore Student Council Julia Turock also signed her lease in September, but she said her group of friends felt additional pressure from the landlord to sign immediately so as not to lose the house.

"My group all wanted to be off-campus and find a house they really liked and sign the lease [as soon as possible], so it was really stressful," she said. "We all put a lot of pressure on ourselves to sign the lease in like, two days, so everything went really quickly. It was crazy."

According to Director of Community Relations Barbara Rubel, landlords may be aware of the increased pressure that students are feeling to secure off-campus housing earlier.

"We didn't understand the rush to sign leases a year before apartments were needed until recently ... [and we] think this may allow landlords to raise rents," Rubel told the Daily in an email.

Turock agreed that landlords can seem aggressive.

"There is a lot of pressure to sign off-campus housing in the first month or two of school. You hear everyone else doing it, and landlords are pushing people to sign," Turock said. "These landlords know that there are 10 people in line to sign the lease after you, and if you want to negotiate ... they'll just get the next group to sign it instead. There's little room for negotiation."

Turock also pointed out that decision-making is especially difficult for sophomores, who have additional time-sensitive decisions to make, including whether to study abroad in their junior year.

"I think the timeline is very difficult," Turock said. "The off-campus housing rush starts before people know when they're studying abroad, so that there's a big disconnect between the on-campus housing timeline, the off-campus housing timeline and the study abroad timeline."

The timeline has been widened even further this year. Although the off-campus housing rush has begun earlier, the majority of study abroad applications through Tufts programs are still due in February and the on-campus housing lottery process begins later in the spring. An additional stress is that lottery numbers for on-campus housing are nearly impossible to find online through Tufts websites and resources.

According to Rubel, the Tufts administration is working to help smooth out the process for students.

"We're working with [the Office of] Residential Life [and Learning (ResLife)], the Dean of Student [Affairs] office and Health Service to look at [the rush] and offer more comprehensive information to students about the process of finding off-campus housing and living there successfully," Rubel said.

Additionally, there were two information sessions about housing hosted by ResLife and Sophomore Student Council in September.

"We had Yolanda King from ResLife and representatives from Community Relations and Health Education come to talk to students about what their options are for living on-campus and off-campus for next year," Turock said.

These events may have been held too late in the process. Even though they occurred in September, according to Turock, there were only about 80 attendees at the housing informational event.

Besides these events, ResLife plays its part also by posting links online to advice about leases, finding a house and some financial details about renting. The Financial Aid Office also offered three presentations for students receiving financial aid and looking for off-campus housing, according to Amy Piantedosi, associate director of financial aid.

Many students, however, are not aware of these resources.

"There is a big lack of information," Turock said. "The ResLife website is available, they do have a section about off-campus housing, but I don't think a lot of people know that exists or know what information is on there."

Instead, like Okazaki, students find themselves relying on information from other students throughout the process. He and his roommate, for instance, did not attend an information session but still felt pressured to start the process early.

"We figured it out by depending on our upperclassmen friends," Okazaki said.

When it comes to actually signing a lease, students noted that they do not use the resources offered through ResLife.

"People were worried, because there are things that you have to look at in the lease, like the no-pet policy, and some things like insurance policy and other legal issues," Okazaki said. "The only resources we used for that were our parents."

Turock, who said her group also relied on the advice of their parents, noted that the lease signing would have been much easier if ResLife had offered services to directly help out, such as checking over the lease before they officially signed with the landlord.

"No one has ever had to figure this stuff out on their own, and there aren't enough resources for what to look for in a lease, or how to find a lease," Turock said. "At some point ResLife had a full-time staff member whose job it was to help people find off-campus housing. That would be really useful. You used to be able to take your lease over to ResLife and have them take a look at it. They don't have a person there to do that anymore."

The university does help full-time faculty members in Arts, Sciences and Engineering in their search for housing. In order to do this in a streamlined way, there exists an affiliation between Tufts and Walnut Hill Properties. Rubel pointed out, however, that Tufts administration does not participate in discussion with property owners for undergraduates.

"The university is not involved in the interaction between students and prospective landlords ... Walnut Hill does rent to a few of the fraternities," Rubel clarified.

While the company is technically separate from the university, Tufts actually owns Walnut Hill Properties and has the company manage its real estate. Graduate students often occupy these units, as do faculty members, according to the housing assistance program for new faculty.

The program for housing assistance for new faculty consists of rental property owned by Walnut Hill and incoming faculty can rent a unit for up to three years.

Amidst all this confusion of resources and pressure to sign leases early, Turock offered up some reassuring advice for students looking for housing.

"It'll work out in the end," she said. "You could sign a lease now, and if you wait a month you could still probably find a lease to sign. Just because you heard that someone else signed a lease doesn't mean that you have to do that tomorrow to have a place to live."