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Housing struggles: it doesn't get better over summer

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JUNE 20, 2016

Everything about being a tenant sucks. Where does one even start? The exorbitant price of rent in the Bay Area does not even come close to matching the quality of many off-campus residences. And this is just the tip of the iceberg.  

In my building, water has been shut off for as long as several weeks. Being forced to shuffle to the Recreational Sports Facility just to shower is hardly a delightful experience. But sure, that can easily be brushed off as a first-world exercise in character-building.

Things do not get better over summer, contrary to expectations. Sure, students do not have to be physically present at their shoddy apartments when they return home, so they do not have to face the stress of using broken utilities or forgetting to pay rent. Except that rent is still due as long as a lease has been signed. This means that students must scramble to look for subletters to avoid paying wasted money out of their pockets. And the process is emotionally draining to say the least.

To fill up five spaces in my apartment, my apartmentmates and I went through about seven broken deals before finding a group ready to commit, and even that group flaked shortly before it was set to move in. So we were left to pay rent for a month although none of us were staying there.

On average, the typical student tenant will have to make dealings with at least three different subletters before finding some who will stay the entire duration that they are away. As such, flaky subletters are not uncommon. For tenants, it is an unwritten rule to be weary of the first set of subletters who sign a deal. Yes, student tenants are being “ghosted” and it is an epidemic. This financial pain is the worst kind, let alone the fact that no one even gets the chance to see their subletters’ faces.

To add salt to our wounds of exasperation, student-tenants like me and my housemates are subjected to the misery of finding subletters online even though it is prohibited by the terms of our lease. Subletters must be chosen through the rental company rather than through a third party, but this is of course inconvenient, so we really are left with no other choice. Craigslist is commonly used, but the Cal housing Facebook group is more popular (and less sketchy).

Being forced to find subletters online leaves little leeway for any sort of background check. Trusting my abode — no matter how crappy it may be — to randoms from Craigslist definitely sends chills down my spine. And because subletting is always such a last-minute scramble, students cannot afford to be picky and are willing to take any who come their way.

The one positive in all this is that tenants never have to see the subletters when away for the break, thus making any of their damage out of sight and out of mind. Just make sure to apologize to the neighbors later because they have to deal with the constant slamming of doors and the loud drunken brawls.        

Notwithstanding all the woes already outlined, the unethical practices of the landlords of some private rental services commonly used by students remain a general burden all year round. It is an age-old truth that landlords and tenants do not gel well, making this a phenomenon hardly unique to Berkeley.

It is common for many a tenant to never see their security deposit again after paying it. Reportedly, some property managers find any excuse to not refund students their $2,000-plus deposit or make it exceptionally difficult to re-obtain. Not even photo evidence was able to get one of my apartment building’s previous tenants their deposit back.

Let’s not even mention the violation of safety measures for the sole purpose of saving money. Thinking back to last year’s tragic balcony collapse, building materials and infrastructure were not appropriate for standard safety measures. And I seriously doubt that my apartment has even been inspected for damage for many years.    

In every way, there are serious flaws in Berkeley’s housing structure, truly making it a crisis. On a basic level, many cannot even afford it, making the issue of poor maintenance and management the smallest cause for concern for those students who are just asking not to be homeless.

Summer is no exception, for it brings up its own abundant stresses. The process of finding subletters was so exacerbating that I did not even bother for the one month that I would be away. Perhaps it is best to jump off the train of heartbreak that leasing entails and choose alternative housing such as the famous co-ops! Housing problems are not going away anytime soon — especially not with the expected increase in Berkeley’s student body. And it is not fair to make the students entirely accountable. The Rent Stabilization Board must step up its game!

Contact Angelica Zocchi at [email protected].

JUNE 19, 2016