When students are met with the daunting prices of apartments in College Park, many of them turn to residential houses as a more affordable solution. But living in off-campus houses comes with its own unique set of problems.
Houses in College Park provide little relief in terms of lower rent, and students usually have to pack themselves into the homes to try and keep their rent under $1,000 a month per bed. Additionally, some students said the quality of the housing usually doesn’t represent the amount they pay for it.
Sam Levinson, a senior communications major, has lived in a house on Rhode Island Avenue since August. She used to live in the Kappa Delta sorority chapter house, but she wanted to give some of the younger girls in her sorority the experience of living in Greek life housing.
However, she questions whether where she lives now is worth the amount she’s paying. She currently pays $833 per month for a single bedroom on a six-person lease, but her house is “falling apart,” she said.
The sink has been broken for the whole semester, and Levinson and her roommates have repeatedly asked the property manager for help fixing it, she said. But their cries for aid are either answered two or three weeks later — or sometimes, not at all, she said.
Right now, Levinson’s lawn is a “jungle,” having been mown only twice the whole year. She and her roommates repeatedly asked for someone to mow the lawn and even offered to do it themselves if someone left a lawn mower for them.
Levinson said her property manager does the “minimum amount of upkeep” to maintain the house.
Levinson isn’t the only one to experience substandard living at a too-high price. When it comes to housing quality, it’s always hit or miss, city council student liaison Adam Rosenbaum said.
“It’s really like a grab bag with what you’re gonna get,” Rosenbaum said. “Some might want to take really good care of their house and their tenants, and some just like really don’t.”
Additionally, with the landlords who don’t care about their tenants and property, new tenants could end up getting fined for damages previous tenants caused, Rosenbaum said.
College Park Mayor Patrick Wojahn has heard of landlords taking advantage of students and having them live in hallways or porches while charging them hundreds of dollars. Instead of living in full rooms, students end up in small spaces that don’t qualify as a room, or aren’t worth the amount they pay.
Apartments in College Park are already reaching past $1,000 in rent a month per bed, with locations such as Terrapin Row charging about $1,300 per bed for a four-bedroom apartment. More luxury apartments, such as the Hub and the Aspen-Maryland project, will slowly be making their way into the city in the next few years, featuring bistros, hot tubs and more amenities.
The city has been in an affordable housing shortage for a while due to its location in a metropolitan area, Wojahn said. More people keep coming in, and the city can’t build enough homes to compensate.
And due to the low supply and high demand, landlords can ultimately charge as much as they want, Rosenbaum said. It becomes impossible to negotiate a lease because landlords know that if rent is too expensive for one group, another group willing to pay the asking price will come along, Rosenbaum said.
Rosenbaum currently pays $875 per month with a five-person lease. Last year, when he lived in a different house, he only paid $630. He considers himself lucky to be on the lower side of prices. Senior government and politics major Evan Roesen, however, pays around $1,000 per month — not including utilities — with the same amount of people on his lease. He lives in a house on the corner of Knox Road and Hopkins Road.
Roesen knew he wanted to live in a house since his sophomore year. When visiting his friends who lived off-campus, he loved the ambience and the flurry of social activity that he saw at their houses. And while he feels that the prices are too expensive, he understands why landlords –– and apartment complexes in general –– charge as much as they do.
“If these landlords, if these apartment buildings can get $1,100 to $1,200 a month from somebody, there’s no reason why they shouldn’t be able to do that,” Roesen said. “They’re going to maximize their profits.”
[Priced Out of Town: A look at housing costs in the College Park area]
In the mid-2000s, the city had a stabilization program in place in order to try and prevent landlords overcharging for rent. It ended up being repealed in 2014. Wojahn believes it wasn’t given enough time to have an effect.
The high housing prices lead to another issue, and one of safety: overcrowding. Many of the houses in College Park are single-family homes. Only one family or five unrelated individuals can live in single-family homes at a time, according to Prince George’s County zoning regulations.
According to public services director Bob Ryan, overcrowded rooms would no longer comply with fire regulations. Fire escape windows, smoke alarms and door requirements wouldn’t be met.
However, in an effort to bring rent down, students may pack themselves into a house, especially if there’s space available. Roesen said he thinks the overcrowding rule is “dumb” –– particularly when there are houses in Old Town with seven or eight bedrooms, but only five people allowed on a lease under county law.
Overcrowding is a common practice among house-dwellers in College Park, one that landlords are also aware of, but just look the other way, Rosenbaum said.
The city also has trouble enforcing this rule, Wojahn said. The department of public services does inspections every year, but the city also has to respect the privacy of the residents. The inspections are scheduled with the tenants, so residents know when they are coming. Enforcement is a constant battle, he said.
“We’ve heard of cases where students, if they have a bedspace, they’ll change it to make it look like there’s nobody living there when somebody is,” Wojahn said.
But it’s what students need to do in order to make rent cheaper, Rosenbaum said. The difference between five and six people could mean the difference between spending over or below $1,000 in rent.
“In order for the price to really make sense for people, you have to overcrowd it,” Rosebaum said.