April 15, 2013

EDITORIAL: Put an End to the Collegetown Housing Rush

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This past fall, we saw students camping out on a sidewalk in Collegetown — not for hockey tickets, but to sign leases on preferred off-campus houses and apartments. By mid-October, some landlords had filled nearly every unit for the following academic year. The City of Ithaca’s decision Wednesday to consider a proposal that seeks to ameliorate this serious problem, then, should inspire hope that our officials are taking these concerns seriously. However, there seem to be too many fatal flaws in the proposed legislation for this to be the case.

The proposal the city will consider suggests amending city code to create a minimum 60-day notice period landlords must give tenants before taking any of three actions: requiring a lease renewal; showing the residence to other prospective renters; or entering a lease agreement with future tenants. There are obvious weaknesses in the proposal that could deprive the amendment of its intended power.

The proposal maintains that “notice can be given at any time during the lease period, beginning at the start date of the lease.” For the myriad residences whose lease terms begin during the summer, landlords would still be able to begin signing new lease agreements during the first week of classes.

Additionally, the proposal stipulates that the wait period “will not be required if landlord and tenant mutually agree … that they waive this requirement.” This exemption leaves far too much potential for abuse. By simply requiring prospective tenants to waive their right to the 60-day notification period in order to sign a lease, landlords could continue to hold hostage students who are under immense pressure to secure housing.

As it stands, the amendment would have no teeth with which to create the “breathing space” that the proposal claims to seek. Ithaca must work to implement policies that would be effective in easing the burden the Collegetown housing rush places on students. Limited the time prior to signing a lease hinders mutual exchange of information between landlords and tenants that would allow each party to make an informed decision. Students who are unsure of what their desired living situation will be a full year in advance are pressured by a move-it-or-lose-it mentality to rush into rental agreements with roommates and landlords with whom they might not be fully comfortable.

The city — and relevant Cornell student groups — must ensure that any new policy intended to improve the Collegetown housing crisis is armed with safeguards against landlord evasion. If the gaping loopholes in this legislation are not closed, it will do little to curtail Collegetown landlords’ ability to manipulate their tenants.