Boris Tsang / Sun Photography Editor

Students away from Ithaca this semester have signed leases — electronically — for apartments that they do not have the chance to see in-person.

December 8, 2020

Students Outside Ithaca Deal With Challenges of Virtual Apartment Hunting

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For students who chose to forgo on-campus classes for the fall semester, the already difficult process of finding housing has become even more complex — it must now be completed fully online. 

Although 75 percent of undergraduates were in Ithaca for the fall semester, many remained home due to health and travel concerns related to COVID-19. One of these students was Justin Lowe ’23, who lives in Kingston, Jamaica.

“I decided to stay home because I was worried about Cornell suddenly closing down and possible travel restrictions that would stop me from returning home,” Lowe told The Sun. 

When he talked about how he found housing, Lowe noted that, compared to peers, he had been quite lucky. 

“I first applied to Cornell housing and looked at sites online. However, a friend of mine told me he had an open room in his house in Collegetown so I’m gonna live there in spring, and renew my lease for junior year as well,” Lowe said. 

Similarly to Lowe, Rabail Makhdoom ’23 stayed home for the semester, though she lives in Lahore, Pakistan. She is planning on coming back to Ithaca for the spring semester and had to look for housing options online. 

Due to the lottery system of Cornell Housing, it is common for students to get housing that they are unhappy with. Makhdoom had, unfortunately, found herself in such a case when she was placed in a dorm on North Campus, which is typically where first-years live, despite being a sophomore.

North Campus, according to Makhdoom, is away from all her friends in West Campus housing and a long way from the Engineering Quad, where all of her classes would have taken place.

“I was very unlucky with Cornell housing, and got placed in a program house on North Campus that I did not want to live in. But the Cornell housing Facebook group had a lot of off-campus housing options,” she said. “I easily found a studio apartment that was available to rent for the spring semester only.” 

But those who were planning on getting housing for the next academic year with larger groups of people found themselves with bigger problems. Gabe Briers-Browne ’23 talked about some of the challenges he and his friends faced while trying to rent a house in Collegetown for his junior year. 

“Around half of us were off-campus, and in different time-zones, so one of the main problems was getting all of us on the same page about which house we wanted. We had to rely on video tours and pictures we found online to make a decision, rather than being able to tour it in person,” Biers-Browne said. 

Due to the pandemic, and many students being remote this semester, some landlords are emailing out leases which tenants can electronically sign. However, this has proven to be a long and stressful process. 

“We had to email the lease out to eight people, spread out across the country, and this took us a long time. We almost lost the house we wanted to another group who were also hoping to sign because of this,” Biers-Browne said.

But luckily for Biers-Browne and his friends, they were able to secure the house for next year.