Yearlong leases hurt students, economy

June’s rent comes due on an apartment which is empty or subleased to, for example, stoners.

by John Hoff

College students have been cheated for too long by landlords who refuse to offer nine-month leases. This issue actually has begun to hurt the economic productivity of Minnesota, and it’s time for the Legislature to step in because we clearly can’t expect cities like Minneapolis to do squat.

Let’s review how the sordid little game has been working all these years, shall we? Starry-eyed students, many of them away from their parents’ homes for the first time, descend upon the college neighborhoods of our fair state looking for apartments. They find apartments galore, but landlords won’t offer a lease that starts in late August and ends in early May.

The students all need and ask for this nine-month lease, but it isn’t offered. It appears that, collectively, landlords have figured out how to screw students and make them sign leases longer than they need.

And, actually, right at this moment would be the time when students stuck in those yearlong leases are feeling the pinch, as June’s rent comes due on an apartment that is empty or subleased at a loss to, for example, stoners. Yep, they’re sitting around right now saying stuff like, “Dude, righteous apartment! It’s, like, a $600 crib but I’m paying a hundred bucks.” Remember those munchies you left in the freezer before you left for summer? They’re all gone. Dude.

There was a time when I thought the city should step in and create a kind of zone around the campus and require landlords to offer leases that coincide with

the school year. In exploring this idea, I always ran right smack into the problem of political feasibility. After all, property interests pull serious weight in city elections. No member of a city council would want to face the wrath of property owners at the polls after approving such a proposal.

But then, late last semester, I had a kind of epiphany while listening to some of my classmates at the Humphrey Institute of Public Affairs doing a presentation on education. It turns out that dropping out of school at any level, or even failing to get the most out of education, actually hurts the economic productivity of our state. In fact, according to one academic paper, “college graduates earn twice as much as high school graduates and six times as much as high school dropouts.”

This paper, by Stephen L. DesJardins, also points out that “despite the concern with graduation rates, there is evidence that only 15 percent of students drop out because of academic factors.”

Most students drop out because of economics, not academics. They calculate the “net returns of persisting versus the net returns of dropping out” and make rational economic choices. And, certainly, three months of rent for an apartment you can’t even use is a pretty hefty piece of economics.

Thus, the landlords around the University with their heartless yearlong leases are having an impact on the college dropout rate and the economy of the whole state. It’s time for the state government to step up to the plate and do something about it.

John Hoff welcomes comments at

[email protected].