February 3, 2014

EDITORIAL: Prioritizing Collegetown Leasing Policy

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Last fall’s rush for Collegetown housing was as fierce as ever, despite the City of Ithaca enacting a new 60-day notice policy it hoped would mitigate the issue. Although the City is still working on policies — including a plan to rezone Collegetown — to reduce the pressure on students to sign leases almost a year in advance, we think alleviating the fall housing rush is a more pressing concern. We urge Common Council to prioritize fixing the flaws in the 60-day notice policy so it can best aid students looking for housing.

As we noted in an editorial last spring, the 60-day notice policy is a reform in name but not in practice. The penalty for violations of this law — up to $500 — is minimal. Many methods exist for landlords to avoid the 60-day waiting period: waiving it in the lease, giving notice during the summer and requiring a deposit well before the end of the waiting period. The law also only benefits students who are considering re-signing their leases for another year and need time after moving in to make a decision. For students coming from on-campus housing without the alternative of living in the same place again, the pressure to sign a lease can be immense, something for which the policy does not account. There is also very little reason for a student to report a violation of the law, since penalizing the landlord does not change a student’s need for housing.

To its credit, the City has been working on ways to reform Collegetown housing for some time. City officials say an existing proposal to rezone Collegetown could encourage development, improve the quality of housing and address the dysfunctional market dynamics that drive rental prices up and lead to unfavorable lease terms. But the Collegetown rezoning plan has been in the works for years and passage and implementation could take several more years. In the meantime, students will continue coming back to school and heading to open houses before they even pick up their books. The fall housing rush is a pressing issue and one that demands immediate attention.

While efforts to shift the nature of development in Collegetown are welcome as a long-term solution, the City should work on revising its existing legislation so it can aid students sooner rather than later. It should continue working with Cornell to ensure that students who are making the transition from on-campus to off-campus housing are not overlooked. It should also ensure that the 60-day notice policy incentivizes students to report rental law violations and imposes more stringent penalties for landlords who fail to abide by it. Despite the challenges in devising such a policy, we urge the Common Council to work towards finding a solution that could alleviate the pressure for students signing leases as early as next year.