Moving off campus, in many ways, is a student’s first step into the real world. Not the “real” world preached by parents when their child moves into a dorm — no, the real world where students have nothing to separate themselves from the wild streets of suburban America beyond a squeaky front door and pair of keys. For many young people, moving into a house, apartment or any other type of student housing introduces a wide spectrum of newfound chores and responsibilities for them to learn. From cooking their own food, to cleaning their own bathrooms, to using public transportation, to fixing their own repairs and paying their own utility bills, Binghamton University students experience a big change after they make the decision to move off campus, usually following their sophomore year.
Oftentimes when first moving off campus, students have little to no guidance in choosing a safe and reliable place to live. BU students would greatly benefit from a revamped off-campus housing website, one which offers students a variety of pages meant to tackle different areas of the housing process. Similar to those found on the websites of other schools, a page dedicated to “common housing questions you should be asking” or even an off-campus lease checklist are a few examples of resources that would make a huge difference to students. As a sophomore student searching for a place to live with a group of peers, I had absolutely no idea as to what makes a lease good or bad. I didn’t know to check for statutes protecting tenants and ensuring living basics, such as appliances and furniture. Unless they have a family member who works in real estate, students often have no one to turn to when seriously weighing the validity and risk of housing options. For this reason, it is very easy for students to mistakenly sign a lease which is designed to exploit them more than protect them.
Speaking from firsthand experience, I know exactly how gullible and open-minded students can be when looking for housing. After finding a house that seemed large enough, nice enough and well-situated enough, my group and I decided to sign our lease right away, in fear of another group signing the property before us. This fear was instilled by a manipulative landlord whose top priority was making money off of ignorant college students. We were not keen enough to do our due diligence, and we didn’t know what was supposed to be included in a proper lease. We did not know our rights as tenants, nor did we understand our place to negotiate with the landlord. The rush propelled by many looking to get the “best” houses and apartments may make students feel hurried and anxious, leading to hastily made decisions. Such issues could easily be alleviated with a University-led blacklist of landlords and companies which have profusely negative reviews as well as a discussion board where students can post their own reviews and recommendations of landlords. This would also prevent the spread of forged reviews among student reviews.
Our troubles did not end there. Once I had moved in the July of the next year, there was a wide array of issues related to the current state of the house. The bathroom had a wasp infestation, our oven door was broken, the front door would not close properly and a couch had been missing from our living room. The worst part of it — we had no usable Wi-Fi, something guaranteed in our lease. Despite numerous attempts at reaching our landlord in hopes of aid, all we received were excuses, lies and messages left on read. It took over a few weeks for a handyman to be sent over to repair our front door, as well as a few months for our oven door to become fully operational again. The issue regarding our Wi-Fi access — something which heavily impacted our ability to perform in online classes — was only solved when my housemates and I pooled together enough money to purchase our own set of routers. On the bright side, I became quite well acquainted with the logistics of removing a wasp nest from a wooden ceiling.
It has become increasingly obvious that many students continue to face the similar issue of false promises issued by apathetic landlords, issues exacerbated by strongly anti-tenant leases. One example of a housing agency students should avoid is Bearcats Housing LLC. While almost every online renting site features apartments and houses owned by Bearcats Housing LLC, the reviews found online paint a drastically negative image of the agency, supported only by tens of fake five-star reviews seemingly posted by the agency itself. The following are genuine reviews found on reviewmylandlord.com:
“Nice house but not worth the terrible landlords … Complained about rats in the ceilings multiple times but landlord is yet to do anything about it,” one review read.
“Anything you will complain about will be insignificant or you are impatient. 1) No internet most of the days 2) Squirrels can come into the building and they live inside the walls. [You] can’t imagine how noisy it gets. 3) He will give the you apartment with broken screens and blinds,” another reviewer wrote.
In addition to this, reviews found on reddit.com and wyl.co complain of the agency keeping “most of the security deposit” and of a “very dishonest” landlord, going as far as to explain that “the shower leaked, the kitchen faucet fell off, we had to mow the lawn and trim trees so we could park in the sham of a driveway!” One student complained that their “[apartment] was in extremely bad condition when we arrived (super dirty, lots of trash) and had a lot of issues that developed throughout the year, none of which were fixed despite our constant maintenance requests.” All of these reviews were posted in 2020.
With serious student issues and reviews often being overshadowed by artificial five-star reviews, it is very difficult for authentic reviews to stand out, making it even more difficult to spread awareness to up-and-coming students. It is paramount that not only BU, but all colleges and universities in the country provide resources and professional oversight regarding the options put forth for students moving off campus. It is important to note that the issues plaguing students in housing can make it impossible for them to be able to focus well on their studies.
One university doing it right is Syracuse University, whose online off-campus housing site provides a wide range of specially designed documents meant to supplement a student’s experience when moving off campus. This includes but is not limited to the university-made “Parent & Family Guide: Off-Campus Living,” “Smart Renter’s Checklist/Lease Signing” guide and “Apartment Search: An Insider’s Guide for Students.”
BU’s resources, when compared to those of Syracuse University, are regrettable to say the least. When looking at its online off-campus housing site, there are little to no resources available to students beyond an off-campus housing database and links to crime maps in the area. While there is a landlord complaint form, a link on the form that supposedly leads to information regarding the landlord complaint process instead leads users nowhere. Not only that, but when clicking on a link labeled “Real-life advice on landlords, moving and what to consider before you sign that lease — or break it”, users are directed to a page called “18 Things You Could Buy Instead Of Renting In San Francisco,” which has absolutely nothing to do with advice on leases.
Although it is up to your own discretion if you choose to believe the University is purposefully misleading students or not, the fact that little to no resources exist for students is alarming. As of February 2021, the University’s off-campus housing database continues to advertise homes owned by Bearcats Housing LLC. BU’s oversight on what landlords are worth marketing to students must be improved. The University must step up its game when it comes to helping students moving off campus, or more students just like me will be misguided and mistreated by landlords who could not care any less about their living conditions.
David Hatami is a junior double-majoring in political science and business administration.