MSA to release rent surveys in a month

The surveys will hopefully create a helpful resource for student tenants.

Chad Hamblin

University student Ryan Donovan said his living situation last year was terrible compared to this year.

Now, thanks to a tip from some friends, he and his roommates have a house with large bedrooms, a new kitchen and affordable rent. Their new landlord even gave them half-price rent for the summer because they couldn’t move in until late August.

“We went into renting very blind last year,” he said. “Had we not known (our friends), we wouldn’t have the place we have now.”

This year, the Minnesota Student Association said it wants to turn word-of-mouth recommendations into a database students can use to find places to live.

MSA has approximately 1,300 rental surveys it collected from student tenants last year. President Tom Zearley, who was in charge of the project last year, said MSA will publish some of the results on its Web site within one month.

The reason MSA can’t publish all the results is because it wants to keep students’ identities safe from landlords, Zearley said. MSA is concerned some landlords might retaliate against students for writing a negative review, he said.

Although students’ names on the surveys won’t be released, Zearley said some properties got few responses, and it’s easy for landlords to guess who submitted them.

MSA plans to publish the surveys from large apartment buildings within one month. Those apartments got enough responses to ensure student anonymity.

Zearley said he hopes to have the rest of the surveys posted on the MSA Web site by January or February, so students can start looking for next year.

The surveys were conducted on the Internet, and students entered their user names and passwords before completing a survey to ensure they were University students.

This year’s rental survey will be available for all students within two weeks, Zearley said.

Survey results

Zearley said most people get to check the rental property before they sign a lease, but they do not know what kind of service to expect from the landlord.

“The landlord is the wild card,” he said. “Sometimes they turn out to be good, and sometimes they turn out to be bad.”

In addition to ranking how responsible the landlord is, the students can rank privacy, value, safety and the condition of a rental unit. The survey also has a place for tenant comments.

“Best apartment I’ve ever found,” one comment said. “I’ve lived there (three) years and won’t move until I’m ready to leave the Minneapolis area.”

Another said, “Horrible. From the beginning of the school year we had multiple problems. Fortunately, the cockroaches were killed within (three) months of living there.”

The majority of the responses are from Minneapolis or St. Paul, but others included areas such as St. Louis Park, Minn., and Roseville, Minn. The survey also has some responses from students living in residence halls.

So far, responses are half positive and half negative, Zearley said.

“Everyone’s not living in the slums,” he said. “It painted a better picture than we thought.”

Landlord response

Jason Klohs, president of the University Concerned Landlords Association, said he thinks the survey is a good idea. However, he does not think landlords will retaliate against students for giving them negative reviews, he said.

“There might be a lot of landlords who won’t like it ’cause they do a bad job,” he said. “A good landlord’s not gonna care.”

Still, Klohs said, he has some concerns about the survey.

He said most students will rush out to write a bad review but wonders how many will take the time to write a good review.

Klohs also said some students get angry when landlords take money from their security deposits. But, in reality, the students damaged the property or didn’t clean before moving out, he said.

As an example, Klohs said, he had a great relationship with four tenants who recently left his property. They even left a note saying he was a great landlord, he said.

However, the tenants did not clean the house and damaged the carpet. Klohs said the tenants got angry because he took $125 out of each of their security deposits to cover his costs.

“What kind of review am I going to get?” he said. “I know 125 bucks meant a lot to the college students, but that $500 meant a lot to me.”

To help make the surveys fair, Klohs said, it might be a good idea to let landlords respond to a bad review.

“There are good landlords – a lot of them,” he said. “It’s the two or three or five bad eggs that are causing disgruntled people.”

Still, Donovan said, the database would be a great resource for student tenants.

“If they were able to work that out, that’d be awesome,” he said.