In the 12-bedroom house at 410 Elmwood, there was a broken door for each resident. The sprinkler line also was broken, and there were massive amounts of trash to be removed, including two heavy beer pong tables. There was a wall covered in eggs from residents throwing them at each other and the remnants of a pool built out of tarp and hay bales in the backyard.
Although there was a massive cleanup, longtime Collegetown landlord Nick Lambrou didn’t have to worry about renting it out the next year. It is one of the fastest properties to leave the market in Collegetown, and this year’s residents signed for it in April 2017, 16 months before they moved in.
While several new apartment buildings have been constructed in Collegetown in the last several years, the number of large houses where eight, 10 or even 14 people can live together has declined, making the hunt to get those properties even more cutthroat.
Jonny Levenfeld ’19, one of the current residents of 410 Elmwood, signed the lease in the spring of his sophomore year. He said that although it might seem “slightly ridiculous” to sign that early, he remembers that there was another group interested in the property at the time, and that if they had waited even a week or two longer, he thinks it would have been off the market.
“I believe from what I’ve been told from [Lambrou] and from past tenants and whatnot that that is often one of the houses that is quickest to go off the market,” Levenfeld said.
Levenfeld said he and several friends knew they wanted to live together, that they wanted to be near campus, and since “there just aren’t that many houses on the market,” they wanted to get the process over with.
It was tense at the time, he said, between dealing with roommates that were either non-committal or on the edge and parents who couldn’t see the house for themselves and may have thought that it was “slightly ludicrous” to sign a lease that far in advance.
“We’re just a bunch of 19-year-olds figuring out where to live. We’ve never dealt with any process like this,” Levenfeld said.
They may have been doing it for the first time, but Levenfeld and his group were not doing it alone. Ian Chu ’19 signed to live in his 10-bedroom house on North Quarry Street in May of 2017. Like Levenfeld, he was also a sophomore at the time.
Chu said that he was told by older friends that if they wanted to live in a house that they liked, they would have to act early. He said he thinks his group could have waited longer, but he’s glad that they didn’t.
“While we did, I guess, kind of jump the gun a bit, I think I’m glad we did, because I know friends who struggled later down the line trying to find housing and obviously by then there’s not as many options,” he said.
Although it is still a stressful process for them, Lambrou told The Sun that people like Levenfeld and Chu have the advantage when looking for these houses. He said that it’s often rising juniors — or in the case of Chu and Levenfeld, second-semester sophomores — who secure the desirable leases because they have visited the houses when their older friends lived there, they have a solid group of friends and they know that they want to get the process over with before prelims start.
And for some groups, the process isn’t that difficult at all. Laurel Fox ’19 signed the lease for the two-story five-bedroom apartment that she currently lives in even before she arrived in Ithaca for her junior year. Once she figured out who she was going to live with, Fox said, everything was pretty straightforward.
She admits that she wasn’t the most involved of her friends in dealing with the logistics of signing the lease, but since they knew of one of Lambrou’s apartments on Eddy Street from older members of their sorority, her friends didn’t have to worry too much either.
“I never felt personally responsible for my own housing,” she said. “It was also very little effort on their part. All they did was email Lambrou.”
Fox said she’s satisfied with her apartment, as did Levenfeld and Chu. They all said that signing early meant they didn’t have to worry about housing during prelims and junior year internship searches, but Chu also pointed out that it leaves groups with little flexibility if they find out about issues with the house or if circumstances change.
“I think we realized a few months before moving in we’re like ‘oh wow the walk to class is actually a lot longer than we thought’ so we couldn’t really change there,” he said.
If signing early is an advantage in the tight market for large houses, signing for a 14-person lease within a year of moving in might be a warning sign for quality.
Christina Nastos ’19 and her friends thought they would live in Greek housing after their freshman year. But once those plans evaporated, they found themselves on a house hunt in February.
“We kind of poked around to see what was available and we went to Ithaca Renting and they had this massive disgusting house that was still available. We rallied a bunch of people together and that’s where we lived,” Nastos said.
Nastos said she had her own kitchen, but opted for a meal plan instead. The stove worked infrequently, and she said there was never enough fridge space between the 14 people living there, not including rodents in the head count.
“It was kind of just generally falling apart at the seams. Very rickety, like I lived on the top floor and basically I would hear squirrels scratching into my roof. You could just tell that the house was never maintained and it probably still shouldn’t be standing. It’s probably not very safe to live there,” Nastos told the Sun.
Signing early for a lease does not prevent quality issues either. Chu said when he moved in there was no electricity or light in his room and their laundry machine didn’t work perfectly.
Costa Lambrou ’16, Nick Lambrou’s son and colleague, said those kinds of issues come with the older houses, and pointed out they come with newer buildings too. He said the first several weeks are known to be a busy time for their maintenance team, which works 10 hours a day, seven days a week “so that everyone’s happy by the time school starts.”
Chu said he understands that, and that he and his roommates are overall satisfied with their property.
“But I just wish that I had some lights in my room.”