The Game of Rent

The Minnesota Daily’s guide to rental housing near campus

Vadim Lavrusik

Around this same time last year, Kristi Pell, a first-year student living in a residence hall, didn’t know where she would live the following year and began scrambling to find a place.

“I didn’t want to live in the dorms again,” Pell said. “I started looking at apartments around the area.”

Pell, now a journalism sophomore, said she decided to live in the Melrose, a nearby apartment complex and a good transition from the dorms.

“It was really stressful,” she said. “If you don’t start looking right away, everything fills up fast.”

As crunch time approaches for students to pick housing for next year, The Minnesota Daily researched and toured some of the large apartment complexes to compare prices and amenities – just as any student would.

The apartments featured are four-person units because most students search with friends.

The Daily also analyzed Minneapolis 2005-2006 police crime statistics to help determine which neighborhood may be safer to live in.

The examination of average home values in different neighborhoods may also provide a sense of the cheapest neighborhood to rent a house.

Apartments vs. houses

Big parking lot or big backyard, security guard at the door or the police, proximity to campus or cheap rent: these are just a few considerations to take into account when choosing between living in an apartment or a house.

But this decision is a bit more complicated.

Most housing experts said each has its advantages and disadvantages, but one isn’t better than the other.

Bill Dane, Student Legal Services staff attorney, said apartments and houses support different lifestyles.

Dane, who works with students on legal housing issues, said apartments might have more restrictions to a student’s lifestyle. These include rules on visitor limits or how much space is available. But a house comes with “a great deal more responsibility,” he said.

Dane said students have to be careful with house leases because they could end up responsible for the entire rent.

“If one of the roommates misses rent, you could be responsible for their rent,” he said.

In an apartment lease, students generally don’t have to worry about such problems, he said.

Students living in a house have more freedoms, but need to be considerate of their neighbors, he said.

“Not everyone living in the neighborhood is a University student,” Dane said. “If your neighbors know who you are, they will treat you differently.”

The advantage to an apartment, however, is that they are usually managed better when it comes to maintenance issues.

Kris Nelson, Center for Urban and Regional Affairs neighborhood program director, said houses usually aren’t managed as well because landlords have scattered properties.

“If they are professionally managed, they are not the kind students can afford,” Nelson said.

However, house tenants get more room and yard area, he said.

One of the biggest differences between renting a house or apartment is the cost.

Architecture sophomore Willy Mattson, who lives in University Commons, said he wants to find a house for next year because the rent is cheaper.

Not only is the price a huge factor, Mattson said, but the number of rooms in the unit is important.

“It’s hard to find a five-bedroom apartment,” he said.

He said he and his roommates want a house in the Dinkytown area or within reasonable distance to campus. Parking spots would be a plus as well, he said.

“We don’t really care about how nice it is, as long as we don’t get broken into every other day,” he said.

Kristi Pell, a journalism sophomore who lives in Melrose Student Suites, said she wants to live in a house next year because “you get more freedom.”

Pell said she doesn’t like Melrose’s 12-vistor rule.

“It’s kind of like a dorm sometimes,” she said. “In a house, you set your own rules.”

If a tenant is loud in an apartment, the security guard comes, but in a neighborhood the “real” cops visit, she said.

Carol Oosterhuis, Minneapolis’s 2nd precinct crime prevention specialist, said home safety depends on several variables and each house and apartment is different.

Oosterhuis said living in an apartment where people prop the door open could cause security problems.

She said tenants in a house have more control of their safety, but living on the first floor creates easier access for an unwanted guest in comparison to living in a fifth-floor apartment.

Safest neighborhood

Southeast Como is the safest neighborhood to live in near campus, according to last year’s Minneapolis Police crime statistics.

The Minnesota Daily analyzed reported crime data from 2005-2006 and broke it down into five surrounding neighborhoods: Cedar-Riverside, Como, Marcy-Holmes, Prospect Park and University of Minnesota’s Minneapolis campus.

Population numbers from the 2000 Census were used to determine the number of crimes per 1,000 residents.

The University neighborhood had the most crimes last year when population numbers were calculated into the analysis, but theft made up about 83 percent of the total.

The University neighborhood had the second least number of violent crimes (homicide, rape, robbery and assault) in 2006. Cedar-Riverside had the most with 166, more than three times as many as the University neighborhood.

University Deputy Police Chief Steve Johnson said although population is a way to determine the safest neighborhood, the number of people using the area is also important.

Johnson said the University has the highest crimes per capita, but the numbers don’t take into account the more than 50,000 students on campus who are potential victims of crime.

The neighborhoods have the same problem because students come for parties, even though they don’t actually live there, he said.

Carol Oosterhuis, 2nd precinct crime prevention specialist, said there are other things to consider besides the population of the neighborhoods.

“If you live on a very busy street where there is a lot of activity, it can contribute to the crime stats of the neighborhood,” she said, but “you’re going to be affected more by who lives next door to you.”

Before students sign a lease, Oosterhuis said they should go to the location at night and inspect the surroundings.

“Is the location secluded, are there big bushes someone could hide behind or is it a place with good lighting?” she said.

Cheapest neighborhoods

Cedar-Riverside may be the cheapest neighborhood near campus for students to live in, according to estimated market values for single family homes in Minneapolis in 2005.

The rent price should reflect the estimated market value, but many other variables could affect rent rates in each neighborhood.

The average estimated market value of the four neighborhoods (Como, Cedar-Riverside, Marcy Holmes and Prospect Park) was $217,693. The highest was Prospect Park at $308,294, double that of Cedar-Riverside.

Kris Nelson, Center for Urban and Regional Affairs neighborhood program director, said landlords could easily charge students more than the property mortgage.

If a landlord pays $1,600 a month for a monthly mortgage and they rent the house to six students for $400, which is a reasonable price, they receive $2,400 – a greater return than if they sold it, Nelson said.

“You can make pretty good money by renting to students,” he said.

In an ideal market, estimated market value of a house would reflect on how much the landlord charges for rent, but it depends on the landlord, he said.

Average rent numbers were not available, but students and neighborhood leaders said areas where estimated home value is higher, such as Prospect Park, tend to have higher rent prices.