Workshop addresses renters’ concerns

Travis Reed

Although nearly 85 percent of University students live off campus, only a handful actually know their rights as renters. Oftentimes, this ignorance can lead to unfair rental agreements and unsuitable living conditions.
A Renter’s Rights Workshop on Tuesday at Coffman Union aimed to address some of the questions students harbor about rented housing and inform them of their legal rights.
Landlords may take advantage of students who are unaware of their rights, said Barbara Boysen, a legal assistant with the University Student Legal Service.
The workshop was composed of an overview of the current housing crunch in the Twin Cities, an education session about renters rights as tenants and a session of testimonials from three University students who have had unfavorable experiences with housing around the University.
A primary issue of concern for students outlined in the workshop is the lack of affordable housing in close proximity to the University.
“The current market forces are such that it’s very difficult to find real estate around campus, and the landlords charge so much for rent that it’s hard for students to afford,” Boysen said.
The exorbitant cost of rental housing has caused many students to overcrowd their apartments and houses with multiple tenants to make the rent more affordable. However, this method of renting is no form of solution.
“For example, any given rental property may be zoned for no more than five unrelated people, while it may be actually rented to seven tenants,” Boysen said. “Lately, tenants have been forced to vacate. Some people have no idea that they are in violation of the law.”
Unfortunately, tenant overcrowding affects even those not living in overcrowded units.
“More and more, because students crowd together and can all share the expenses of rent, they crowd out low-income families,” said Charlie Warner, director of Housing Programs at HOME Line. “This is a wide-reaching social problem that affects more than just University students.”
Government standards specify that housing expenses should not exceed 30 percent of a person’s yearly income. Warner said that if, for example, a University student makes $8 an hour, this figure amounts to spending $415 a month on rent. However, the average apartment in the Twin Cities is $670.
“People in the metro area can’t live anywhere,” Warner said.
This problem, among other bad housing experiences, was discussed by the student panel at the workshop.
“The housing office was unhelpful. They had a bunch of listings, but they were all unavailable,” said University student Rachel Boeke, who was without housing and had to live with several different friends for seven months. “Even if they had been available, I couldn’t have afforded them anyway.”
Another student on the panel, Adam Buerman, expressed his concern for the lack of suitable housing for University students. After being waitlisted for residence hall living and searching unsuccessfully for several months for housing while living over-occupancy with friends, Buerman was finally able to end his search.
“When I did finally find a place, all of the housing that I’ve ended up with has been in bad shape and way too expensive for its condition. I’ve had some very bad housing experiences here at the University,” Buerman said.
Overall, both students and professionals alike at the workshop encouraged students to remain aware of their rights. The fact that many renters do not know the intricacies of their renting rights under law is one of the biggest problems facing students in rented housing today.
Prospective student renters are encouraged to consult the University Student Legal Service if they have any questions about their legal rights as tenants. Additionally, the “Tenant Resource Guide,” available at the office, includes information from the state attorney general’s office.