September 5, 2008

Students Scramble to Sign Leases Early

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While college students across the country settle into their new apartments and dorms this fall, many Cornellians are scrambling to sign leases for the next academic year.
Many students feel pressure to sign leases for apartments in Collegetown early in the year, sometimes before being able to compare different properties.
Elizabeth Truax ’11 said she was concerned about signing her lease as early as September.
“Most of the pressure came from other people telling us we would miss out on all the good places if we didn’t act quickly — as in, if we didn’t start looking for places in September,” shae said. “This led to a very difficult time finding a group of people and a place that everyone could agree on. Many girls felt uncomfortable being rushed into a decision when they were still of unsure of what they wanted.”
Nick Lambrou, a landlord in Collegetown, recognizes the competitive market at Cornell.[img_assist|nid=31452|title=Rental rush|desc=Buildings around Collegetown prominently advertise for leases.|link=node|align=left|width=|height=0]
“People at Cornell come from nice places and they want nice places here,” Lambrou said.
“There are thousands of students at Cornell looking for a property with a balance of good location, size, newness, quality, property owner reputation and if you act faster, you’ll get the best,” Lambrou said. “In the heart of Collegetown the properties go faster. They are more competitive.”
Many students are unfamiliar with what to expect when they begin apartment searching.
“There are students who say ‘I won’t pay $700 a month for Collegetown, but I’ll pay $500 a month for a place on Stewart Ave.’ They realize it’s not the most desirable location for students and then the following year they make sure to sign early,” Lambrou said.
These rising pressure to sign early leases inspired one graduate student to contact Common Council member Mary Tomlan ’71 (D-3rd Ward).
According to Tomlan, the graduate student contacted her to urge the council to consider putting a restriction on when leases could be signed in Collegetown.
In some neighborhoods surrounding other universities there are laws that prohibit signing leases earlier than six months prior to a move-in date. Currently, some students at Cornell sign leases as early as a year before moving in.
The request by the student has been circulated among Common Council members, according to Tomlan, but no actions have been taken.
“Mayor [Carolyn Peterson] had received and circulated the student’s inquiry to Common Council members and said she was also going to send it out to the city’s Rental Housing Advisory Commission,” Tomlan stated in an e-mail. “I have not heard of any discussions about or responses to this issue in city government thus far.”
Though a rental housing commission was previously formed in Ithaca for discussing such issues, according to Joe Schill, a current member of the commission, the committee is defunct and is not making progress.
Svante Myrick ’09 (D-4th Ward) sits on the Collegetown Vision Implementation Committee, which is currently working on a master plan to guide future development in Collegetown. According to Myrick, lease restrictions are not one of their concerns right now.
“I think the reason [other towns put up restrictions] is because of the exploitative practices on the part of the landlords,” said Myrick, who also serves on The Sun’s editorial board. “In other places landlords are convincing people to sign before they do research, so they encourage people to sign and end up exploiting students.”
Myrick does not find this to be a huge concern in Collegetown. As of now, he said, a lease restriction has not come up in any official conversations.
“Market should dictate everything. When the government gets involved, trouble ensues,” Lambrou said. “Plus, I wouldn’t even know how to enforce [a lease restriction]. Human beings have a tendency to cheat for the best properties.”
Truax agreed that this could bring corrupt practices, and not prevent them.
“It could create a rush of people all trying to sign contracts within the weeks quickly following this six month cut off and would most likely drive the rent prices up because landlords would take advantage of everyone being so frantic about securing their housing,” Truax said.
Myrick is looking to improve Collegetown and housing conditions by working with the city to allow for taller buildings to be built.
“Anytime that you increase supply, the people at the lower end of the pole need to do something to remain competitive. Right now many apartments in Collegetown are sub-par and demanding high rents,” Myrick said. “This possible height increase would help Collegetown and lower rents.”