Courtesy of Sarah Skinner

Amy Chen ’22, Sophie Matton ’22 and Bella Romano ’22 camped outside the Ithaca Renting office in hopes of securing a lucrative lease for the 2020-2021 school year.

September 19, 2019

Cornell Students Sleep On Sidewalk for Cheaper, More Desirable Leases 

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Fifteen hours before the renting office opened on a rainy Thursday morning, the girls spread out their blankets on the sidewalk, plugged in an extension cord through a hole in the door and settled in for the night.

Large local firm the Ithaca Renting Company advertises the opening of the next year’s  Collegetown leasing for 9 a.m. sharp on a September day each year. To snag leases in prime locations and at lower prices, students line up hours beforehand or even camp out the night before.

Sophomores Amy Chen ’22, Sophie Matton ’22 and Bella Romano ’22 arrived at the door at 6 p.m. on the night of Sept. 11, equipped with warm clothes and a big umbrella — the forecast threatened rain early in the morning.

That wouldn’t stop them from getting the apartment they wanted for 2020-2021, the only three-bedroom in their complex of choice. One of the girls parallel parked her car in front of them on the street, an accessible haven for a quick nap.

“It’s like Black Friday,” Matton told The Sun four hours into their vigil, but nearly 11 months before she could move into the apartment she hoped to sign a lease for the next day. “We’re not waiting outside of Walmart to get our TV, we’re waiting to get our apartment.”

This is a yearly phenomenon, the company’s manager said. Ithaca Renting is used to students queuing up half a day in advance for the cheapest or most desirable leases, and allowed the groups to stay inside until around 9 p.m. 

The three-bedroom that Chen, Matton and Romano has toured the week before was listed at $1,160 per person, per month. Other buildings that opened up that morning offered rents in Collegetown for as low as $720.

The sophomores could see the window of what they hoped to be their new home from the street.

“The location is really good, and the price is pretty good too,” Matton said. The three said they didn’t really want to be on the sidewalk, where people took pictures of their camp and passerby shouted questions, but they didn’t want to miss out on the apartment and regret it later.

Rentals in Ithaca are an increasingly competitive game, especially in the highly sought-after Collegetown area. The closer to campus and the better the amenities, the higher the rent.

Some apartments in the area, such as those at 312 College Avenue, cost up to $4,150 (around $1400/month per person) for a three-bedroom apartment. The same complex offers students one bedroom, one bathroom apartments for up to $2,445.

Down the street, residents of 201 College Avenue pay up to $2,500/month for a 400-square-foot, one-person “luxury” apartment.

Typically, students sign leases on these apartments far in advance. Lisa Everts, the rental manager for Ithaca Renting, told The Sun that the business began receiving inquiries for the 2020-2021 academic year in April — over 14 months before those leases would begin.

Ithaca Renting, one of the largest local firms, leases to over 600 tenants near campus. Often, Everts said, it is one of the last Collegetown companies to open up their rentals for the following year.

“We want to give our current residents enough time to at least move in to their new apartments before we invite them to renew their leases,” Everts said.

Ithaca Renting opened their leasing on Sept. 12. As of that day, Cornell students had been in class for exactly two weeks.

Chen had a 10:10 a.m. class that Thursday morning, and carefully folded inside her bag was a professional outfit for the day’s Career Fair. She planned to sign her lease, don her heels and catch a ride up to Bartels, hopefully scoring both an apartment and a summer internship in one day.

Everts said that the company tried to plan the opening times strategically, but seeing people waiting outside is “a little bit of a shock each year.”

While only a handful of students — also including Caroline Lee ’22 and several others — spent the whole night on the sidewalk, some arrived hours before the company was set to open.

“I’ve heard that if you don’t get here early enough, you can get screwed over,” said Chris Hales ’22, who showed up at around 6:50 a.m. “And it’s a good thing I did.”

Hales and his roommates clinched the final triple in another Collegetown building, also owned by Ithaca Renting. It was worth it, he said — “We’re not homeless next year.”

Neither are Chen, Matton and Romano.

They stayed through the night, working on problem sets on computers plugged in through the crack in the Ithaca Renting door and watching Katherine Heigl movies. A Wings Over Ithaca employee offered to let them use the bathroom, at least until the shop closed at 2 a.m. Around that hour, a soft rain began to fall.

The renting office employees took pity on the groups of people on the sidewalk, and opened up the leasing office early the next morning. By 9 a.m., the girls were official lessees of the Ithaca Renting Company.

“There was a group that got here at like 7 p.m. last night,” said Chris Konja ’22, who lined up at around 8 a.m. that morning to sign a lease with Hales that would start the next year. “That’s crazy.”