A Newcomers Guide to Living in a College Apartment: The Nightmare of Leasing Companies

by Nikki Geffen on September 15, 2012

Every college student is excited to get out on their own. Moving away from home was the first step, living alone in the dorms was step two and then comes the move to an apartment. When you first think of moving into an apartment, parties, booze and boys first come to mind, but what people don’t often think about is what lies behind the fun. What steps does it take to get an apartment?

It all starts with a leasing company. They are possibly one of the most influential aspects to the enjoyment of apartment living. They can make or break your experience. Unfortunately, I’ve had a terrible experience with my leasing company and I’ve only lived in my apartment for a month. It started off on a rocky road right when my roommate moved in. She moved in two days before me. They were aware of her arrival and the apartment was supposedly  ready for us (we started paying rent a week before we actually moved in). When she opened the door, the place was a disaster. The apartment looked like it hadn’t been cleaned since the 50′s, with broken windows and glass shards on the floors. Her room was locked from the inside, so she couldn’t even move her stuff into her room. After calling our landlord numerous times, the apartment wasn’t fully cleaned till three days later (with a very loose meaning of “fully cleaned”).

Once we all moved in, the issues kept coming. Our three-bedroom apartment is probably the oldest unit in the complex and has numerous maintenance issues. Our shower knobs make the most painful screeching sound every time you turn them (like nails on a chalkboard). There is still a hole in the main window facing out towards the street in one of the bedrooms. The shelves in our refrigerator are broken and the air conditioning units in the bedrooms barely work. The gate to the apartment complex is stuck and is permanently open, allowing intruders of all kinds easy access to our units. One of the two dryers for the entire complex doesn’t work and our packages go missing within minutes of their delivery.

I can’t help but wonder if young adults living in apartments all over have the same issues with leasing companies or if they specifically treat college students differently. They know that even if they don’t answer our maintenance requests and listen to our complaints we will still continue to do business with them year after year because we don’t have a choice. There are limited apartment complexes around college campuses, especially USC, so everyone uses the same companies despite their reputations. In a dangerous area, like South-Central Los Angeles, location was my main priority when searching for housing. But is good location really worth bad service? Am I really safer in a closer apartment with broken windows and an open gate or would living farther from campus be safer if it’s a better leasing company?

This service is just unacceptable and we have to remember we have rights. We legally have rights as tenants, students or not, and we should take legal action if we aren’t treated correctly. Leasing companies need to learn that age doesn’t matter and every tenant should be treated the same. Thanks to Maria Iacobo, Director of Public Relations for the USC Law School, here is a tenants rights listing of lawyers who can help remind you of your rights as a tenant and help deal with landlords. Take action!

Have you had any issues with your leasing company? Is this normal or am I an unusual case?

  • http://Realtor.com/ Candice Cerro

    Oh no, Nikki! That definitely sounds scary and not appropriate in the least. I’ve lived in 6 different rentals now and while no landlord is perfect and I’ve had my share of issues at each place, your experience sounds worse than anything I’ve ever encountered. I hope they get it straightened out very soon, but in the meantime make sure you are taking the extra precautions to make your apartment safe.

  • Kate Gatena

    I definitely agree that leasing companies around USC can take advantage of students because we are limited in options. I live in my sorority house now which has an excellent housing board but I too have had to deal with challenging landloards in the past.

  • Sylvia Geffen

    Save your money so you can be your own landlord!!

  • Molly Russell

    Nikki I am so sorry for all your apartment problems! I agree it is so ridiculous how landlords can act just because we are students and they know they can get away with it! I have had similar issues in my apartment! We had a big issue with our stove and it seemed like gas so they replaced it… with another oven from the 1950s. Seriously?! We pay so much, they really do not have to be so cheap!

  • Jessica Wang

    Aww, sorry to hear about your bad experiences Nikki! I don’t live around the SC area but I have friends who are and a lot of them had terrible experiences with the rental/leasing companies in the area too. I wish the USC will be able to buy off all the land and build more safe student apartment/dorms.

  • Brooke M.

    This is partly why I decided to move out of downtown and commute to school during my last year. I completely agree that the apartment complexes around USC tend to charge more for an inferior product. They know students will keep coming back regardless.

  • Fernanda López

    Wow this sounds like a great disaster! Fortunately I haven’t had such terrible experiences like you. But it sounds like from the beggining it was a nightmare. I would have cancelled my leasing contract right from the start, and I always pay good attention to those contracts and don’t settle with agreements that might affect me but this is a lot of work. I hope you can find a better landlord in the future. Good luck

  • Elizabeth Reidenbach

    Nikki, that sounds like a less-than-ideal living situation – I’m so sorry to hear that you and your roommate are off to a very rough start with your apartment and landlord! My college alma mater provided guaranteed on-campus housing for three years, and unlike undergrad USC students, Villanova undergraduate students preferred to live on-campus as long as possible. I lived in an off-campus house with two additional friends my senior year of college, and while we didn’t experience the vast array of issues that you’re suffering from, our roof was in desperate need of repair (a.k.a. it needed to be replaced immediately), but our landlord refused to do anything about it. As it turned out, a year later, the roof did collapse and he was finally forced to put a new roof on the home. Unfortunately, the bottom line is that when there are limited off-campus housing options available near a large university, like USC, rental property companies and landlords are more likely to seize the opportunity on the capital market because they know that there is a great demand for students who require housing; in other words, it truly is a landlord’s paradise. Thus, they’re able to tighten the contract, regulate the rent, etc. to their ultimate advantage. Moreover, since they’re renting to students with more-often-than-not parents as guarantors, I don’t think the incentive to immediately address  issues with an apartment unit exists unless there is an immediate threat to one’s physical safety or harm. Like Candice mentioned earlier, you should definitely take the necessary steps to keep your apartment safe, and don’t be afraid to speak up and exercise your rights as a leaser – you and your roommate deserve, at minimum, peace of mind. 

  • HillaryBrown

    I had no idea, Nikki! That sounds so frustrating. While my house isn’t it such dire straits, there are definitely some things I would fix. For example, last week a bunch of ants decided my room was a better home than outside. Disgusting, I know. I’m looking forward to a better living situation next year for sure. Unfortunately, I don’t think things get much better until a few years after graduation. Oh well, this builds character and will make for funny stories later, right?

  • Mia B.

    My undergrad living situation was also always on-campus -  have you talked to USC housing to see if they can offer some suggestions? Hope things get better! Fight On!

  • Patrick Xiang

    I had similar experience when I first moved into the house I’m staying in now. We talked with the landlord for more than ten times, and we had several serious arguments. We finally got everything we wanted  (even lower rent). The thing is that you have to keep talking with them. It’s more like a game of patience.

  • Katie L

    It’s pretty crazy how expensive housing is around USC even when the quality is bad. Even though I appreciate living at Gateway since it’s new and close to campus, I have problems with the apartment appliances and the customer service is terrible. At gateway you don’t get what you pay for… leasing companies need to raise their customer service standards.

  • Manielle89

    I had trouble with the company wanting to cancel my parking arrangements, not delivering my mail, and just overall negativity from the staff. I can’t wait to be able to purchase a house, but until then it’s imperative to do research on the leasing company just to get an idea of what you’re getting into.

  • Nancy Cheng

    I had the same experience as well.  Last semester I had a lousy landlord and and terrible room. They charged us for every old thing that needed to repair and they blamed those things on me and our roommates. If we didn’t pay for the repair, the living condition jus got worse.  I still live around the campus now, but it makes lot of different when I checked the room myself before signing the contract. I don’t believe in the fancy pictures and description on website anymore.

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