Opinion: Off-campus housing doesn’t mean on-campus resources stop
American University has a duty to ensure that its off-campus students understand their renter’s rights and avoid housing scams
Housing is essential to every part of life. Safe and stable housing allows a person to thrive and have a comforting place to return to. This is especially true for college students. College is filled with fast-paced and ever-changing schedules that students must adapt to quickly. Stress about housing should never have to be on a college student’s mind. Housing should be the one place a student can go to feel comfortable in their hectic lives. Unfortunately, for many American University students, especially upperclassmen, housing has become another stressor in their already stressful lives.
The Housing and Residence Life Department’s website has many “quick links” for on-campus housing. These links include the housing portal, academic year rates, Black Affinity Housing, residence halls and other on-campus housing resources. There are webpages on the drop-down menu to off-campus housing resources and living in D.C. This section offers resources to find off-campus housing as well as resources for budgeting. However, two important resources that are vital to the safety of students are missing: understanding D.C.’s renter’s rights and tips to keep from being scammed in housing.
Starting from the first year of college, AU students are not required to live on campus. That being said, most first-year students live on campus and many second-year students live on campus as well. However, AU students are not guaranteed housing all four years of their undergraduate years. First-and second-year students are guaranteed housing, but third- and fourth-year students are not. Upperclassmen have the options of Hughes Hall, McDowell Hall and Cassell Hall, the three of which also house second-year students, and Nebraska Hall and the Frequency Apartments, residence halls restricted to upperclassmen only. With many upperclassmen options also shared with sophomore options, there is not much room to put upperclassmen. This forces many third and fourth-year students to go off-campus for their housing and face choices without support and resources.
AU has a responsibility as a university that does not guarantee housing all four years to provide its students with the proper resources to protect students. This is to ensure housing does not become an added stressor in our lives while we attend college. If AU cannot provide housing for students, the least they can do is help students understand their renter’s rights and protect students from being scammed.
In 2018, D.C. Attorney General Karl Racine stated that because of the difficult nature of finding affordable housing in D.C., young people are easy victims to scammers. Racine shared tips and a website to catch rental scams. The website explains that renters must watch out for hijacked listings where the listing “copies a legitimate advertisement—photos, location, description—and posts it on another website with different contact information.” The second is a phantom rental which “uses photos of a property that is not located at the advertised address.” The website also lists tips to avoid scams, including to compare prices in the same area, to avoid landlords that will not share the address of the property and to not wire money. To report a scam, the website lists the OAG’s Office of Consumer Protection at (202) 442-9828 or email@example.com and the Consumer Complaint Form.
Nolo, a legal encyclopedia, has information for D.C. renters to know about their renter’s rights. This includes rights such as the requirement of landlords to share specific information with renters, a limit on how much a landlord may charge for a security deposit, when and how a landlord can terminate a tenant’s stay and when tenants can withhold rent. This is essential information for students to know when renting off-campus apartments and unfortunately, information they may not know exists. This again could quickly be changed if AU were to take initiative and assist its students, many of whom are on their own and new renters, by compiling and sharing the information.
This is easy access information so many college students are missing because, as new renters, they are not sure where to look. I call on AU to make this easy fix. Compile these resources onto the AU website and offer programming and webinars for students. This is a situation where the fix is simple and direct. It is up to AU to make the necessary changes to ensure all of its students have a safe and secure housing process.
Anna Gephart is a junior in the School of Public Affairs and a columnist for The Eagle. This article was edited by Alexis Bernstein and Nina Heller. Copy editing by Isabelle Kravis, Leta Lattin and Sarah Clayton.
Editor's note: This article has been updated since the time of publication to include additional information about off-campus housing resources provided by AU.