Every morning, thousands of UT students commute to campus by bus, car, bike, or the distinctive West Campus walk — complete with high-knee steps over shattered liquor bottles and piles of dog excrement. Living off campus can be a challenge.
Yet more than 86 percent of UT students elect to live off campus, largely because of the massive shortage of available on campus housing. Of the 16,660 students who applied for on-campus housing last year, only 7,323 actually got a dorm room. That’s fewer than the incoming freshman class.
There simply aren’t enough dorms, and there isn’t realistic space for UT to build more. Such limited availability can make on-campus living prohibitively expensive for many students. Moving off campus becomes the only option, however daunting.
Finding off-campus housing can be one of the most stressful parts of going to UT, and the University doesn’t do much to help with that.
If you’re a UT student apartment hunting for the first time, chances are you’re a freshman (or an unlucky high school senior). You’re probably hurrying to find a roommate among friends you’ve only just met. You’re probably very stressed about finding a place before the good ones are gone, and you probably have no idea what you’re doing.
Students’ inexperience can be used against them. As The Daily Texan reported last month, University House — a massive complex home to almost exclusively UT students — repeatedly overbooked and illegally terminated students’ leases. West Campus apartments also regularly include terms in their leases that would force students to pay the full amount for the remaining months if they abandon their lease, which is highly unusual.
Many of the students University House manipulated into signing “mutual termination” agreements did so because they didn’t know they could refuse. Jacob Sepulveda, who had several leases terminated by University House, credits his age and inexperience for this mistreatment. Sepulveda had no idea he could reject an unfair lease and find a new place to live. Because of this, he was stuck with a more expensive apartment than he’d originally agreed to. “Students should not have to learn about the legalities behind signing a lease the hard way,” Sepulveda says.
That’s where the University should come in.
UT needs to provide students, and especially freshmen, with better resources for finding housing off campus and understanding their rights as renters.
No University entity offers any comprehensive guide to renting around campus. Accessible resources would be monumental in alleviating the burden of students feeling like they have to do it on their own. Students would benefit from online resources such as guidelines about how to find an apartment and links to reliable local realty agencies or search engines. More hands-on resources, such as housing advising by resident assistants or available through the Division of Student Affairs, would help students navigate the transition from dorm to off campus life.
Legal resources do exist on campus, but few students know about them. Legal Services for Students provides free legal aid and advice to UT students — which can include looking over your lease before you sign it. But this is vastly underused. Students should be informed about their options and encouraged to use every resource at their disposal.
Apartment hunting has become an integral part of the UT experience, and the University should treat it as such. Students have to navigate a variety of stressful situations when they arrive on campus — trying to figure out complex renting and realty secrets shouldn’t have to be one of them.
Anderson is a Plan II and history sophomore from Houston.