There are students in desperate need of housing. There are landlords in pursuit of a hefty profit. I have come in contact with a few of these landlords looking to drain every penny from the pockets of students. I have heard horror stories of students who have had their wallets drained and their trust broken and have been exploited at the hands of these money-hungry West Campus housing agencies. This should not be happening. I am vulnerable and inexperienced. Students like me are vulnerable and inexperienced. When our inexperience and desperation is exploited, there is a lack of justice occurring. But justice and fairness can easily be found in the market of West Campus living with the right resources. I want to make sure that the hard-earned money of students doesn’t end up in the wrong hands, and that no one has to experience what I and so many others have experienced.
I have read and heard horror stories. Stories so ridiculous and unfair they don’t seem real. The content of these stories seem almost like fiction, except they’re not. Students move into a brand-new luxury housing establishment, only to find sewer water leaking from the ceiling and immovable concrete pillars in the middle of bedrooms. Threats to increase the rent of a unit if said student does not immediately sign a lease following a tour of the unit. Leases severed by landlords months after its signing, leaving students desperate for housing that was then likely unavailable. Students paying more in rent for a view, only to have a window facing a dark, unused courtyard. The livelihood of students should be the top priority of off-campus housing agencies, especially considering the amount students are already paying for that housing. But the livelihood isn’t their top priority: profit is.
I have experienced these unpleasant interactions while seeking housing in West Campus myself. I have been handed a plate full of hidden fees that were not previously discussed. I have been coerced into paying a nonrefundable $300 wait-list fee for an apartment that no longer offered the floor plans I requested. I have been asked to pay more for a room simply because it had a window in it, despite not being informed of this prior to my leasing interview. I was seen only as a monthly source of income to these housing agencies, not as a valued potential resident in need of a place to stay.
But the exploitation of students at the hands of West Campus property owners doesn’t need to continue. Students can prevent this from happening. The University can prevent this from happening. Resources to prevent this are available. Students need to harness those resources, and UT needs to bring awareness to the dangers students are facing and bring awareness to the resources they are providing to prevent this exploitation from occurring. UT provides free legal services that can assist in analyzing leases for students to ensure they know what they are signing up for. UT could warn students at orientation to be extremely cautious when looking at off-campus real estate. UT could provide interactive examples of how to show caution and discern between legitimate and sketchy real estate, similar to the interactive and informational quizzes freshmen are required to complete regarding drinking and sexual assault. There is so much that can be done.
As students, we deserve better. We shouldn’t have to carefully tiptoe around the slimy, exploitative landlords and leases of West Campus. We shouldn’t have to be afraid of faulty electricity, sewage leaks and concrete pillars in the apartments we pay hundreds — sometimes thousands — a month for. But unfortunately, we do. We do have to be afraid of these things. They are unfair, scary and absolutely shouldn’t exist. But they are the reality. We must do everything in our power to fight against these systemic problems surrounding West Campus real estate. We must fight now so that the students that come years after us won’t have to deal with this plague on life at UT.
Taylor is a communications freshman.