Housing office offers advice for off-campus living

Columbia housing is moving more towards luxury, which can create problems, Student Legal Services representative Steve Concannon said.

As the time of year to sign or renew leases rapidly approaches, Student Legal Services and Off-Campus Student Services are reminding students to be careful of what they are getting themselves into when they sign a contract.

“Decline something that you can’t afford,” Student Legal Services representative Steve Concannon said. “Decline something that you’re going to put 100 percent on credit and student loans. I think that’s a waste and a bad idea. But certainly don’t find yourself in a tenancy that you can’t afford.”

However, Concannon said he has noticed a trend in Columbia student housing towards luxury rather than affordability.

“I see a decrease in what I would call ‘rough and tumble’ apartments,” he said. “I’ve seen it go from a lot of one-bedroom rentals out of someone’s house to being corporate, ‘tons-of-amenities’ types of situations.”

Concannon said he feels bad for students in these situations and recognizes the difficulties students face when searching for housing.

“I’m very empathetic to the students in town here because it seems like those very frugal places to live, while they exist, they exist less and less,” he said. “Properties are being bought out, and your old basement apartment that was tolerable but not fancy, they’re falling on the wayside. If you just can’t afford your apartment, that’s a tough situation.”

Off-Campus Student Services has also observed an increase in opulent student housing.

“Columbia has seen a growing number of ‘luxury’ apartments built with student populations in mind, but this hasn’t necessarily led to a decline in affordable student housing city-wide,” Off-Campus Student Services representative Jordan Hoyt said.

Despite the potential availability of affordable student housing in Columbia, Concannon said he is still concerned that students might not find apartments within their price range and then sign something they can’t afford.

“I think a lot of students sign those leases, and they don’t know how they’re going to pay for it, and that’s just a mistake,” Concannon said.

Unless the landlord does something wrong, Student Legal Services can’t be much help, Concannon said.

“I can help you if the landlord has in some way wronged you or not lived up to their end of the bargain, but if you make a bad deal, you make a bad deal,” he said. “There’s not much remedy for that.”

Off-Campus Student Services also advises students against going above their price range on apartments and provides services to help students determine what they can afford and how.

“One of the things we do here in Off-Campus Student Services is to help students recognize the various costs associated with living off-campus and then help them find housing options that fit within their own definition of affordability,” Hoyt said.

Off-Campus Student Services provides consultations, informational sessions, presentations for classes, groups or residence halls and a website containing information students need for their housing search.

However, Concannon said, student housing companies are aggressively chasing students who may not be able to live up to the obligations of their properties.

“(Student housing complexes are) very aware of the fact that they’re marketing to young people who may not have the best discernment of judgment yet,” he said. “I’m especially upset with those apartment complexes and places who are having these parties with alcohol present where you sign the lease there.”

Once students do find themselves struggling to pay rent on a lease they have already signed, Concannon said he recommends they talk to their landlord, as well as Student Legal Services.

“If you don’t have the money for that month, my best guess for you is to go have a sit-down with your landlord and say, ‘Listen, I don’t have the money. I want to avoid late fees. This is when I will have the money,’” Concannon said.

Off-Campus Student-Services advises students to read their contracts and keep an open dialogue with their landlords when they encounter difficulties with their rent.

“We always encourage students to have open and active dialogues with their property managers and landlords,” Hoyt said. “Students should always read their leases before they sign them and keep a copy, so they can familiarize themselves with the conditions applicable to late payment outlined by the property manager in the lease.”

Off-Campus Student Services also recommends students struggling to pay their bills look into other alternatives to save money for their rent by utilizing local services that can provide other essentials.

“There are many local and campus resources that can offer utility payment assistance, emergency shelter and food or clothing access,” Hoyt said. “We provide students with as many resources as possible, depending on their needs.”

Those resources include local shelters, food banks, the Central Missouri Community Action group and City of Columbia Resources. Struggling students can also turn to campus resources such as Tiger Pantry, Truman’s Closet, the Office for Financial Success and the Career Center.

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