Disclaimer: Current student liaison Dhruvak Mirani is a former Diamondback opinion columnist.

When College Park City Council student liaisons Dhruvak Mirani and Gannon Sprinkle started their terms in 2023, their student constituents kept bringing up one issue: the low quality and high price of student apartments near the University of Maryland’s campus.

“We have seen no bigger policy issue where students come out, and scream and yell about, than affordable housing,” Sprinkle, the deputy student liaison and a sophomore government and politics major, said.

Those conversations led Mirani and Sprinkle to form the University of Maryland Tenants Union to represent and advocate for student renters in College Park’s off-campus apartments. The union, which had its first meeting last week, plans to create committees of renters from each off-campus apartment building to coordinate action.

Long-term, the union hopes to pursue rent stabilization and price caps on College Park apartment buildings through city and county action. Its shorter-term goals include quickening response times for apartment work orders, instituting an early lease ordinance and addressing health concerns, such as mold and bugs, in buildings.

Mirani and Sprinkle created this union outside of their duties as student liaisons and plan to continue working with the organization throughout their time at this university.

As student representatives to the city council, the pair have advocated for other policies to help student renters. Both liaisons serve on a city subcommittee that’s developing a program to grant rent subsidies to some students.

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While working on the subcommittee, Mirani said they have seen some pushback from permanent city residents who feel students should be working with the university, not the city, on housing issues. The new union, to him, is the convergence of both.

“We’re taking their advice because we can do both,” Mirani, a sophomore computer science and government and politics major, said. “We can both take advantage of our own collective power, while also acknowledging that the city has a role to play in supporting all of its residents.”

The pair tabled outside the Terrapin Row apartment building before winter break, where Mirani said they heard “overwhelmingly positive” feedback to the idea of a tenants union.

More than 60 percent of students at this university live off-campus, according to U.S. News and World Report.

While considering starting this union, Mirani and Sprinkle spoke to local Washington, D.C., and Maryland leaders from advocacy organizations such as Progressive Maryland, Democratic Socialists of America and Stomp Out Slumlords.

Less than 10 people came to the group’s first meeting Tuesday. The local leaders Mirani and Sprinkle spoke to advised them to start the union regardless of turnout and emphasized meetings will encourage more people to join, Sprinkle said.

Tobi Hammond, the treasurer of Cooperative Housing at University of Maryland, attended the union’s first meeting. The organization, also known as CHUM, is a cooperative that provides affordable group living in College Park.

Hammond hasn’t lived in a College Park apartment but said they often hear about the bad state of apartments from friends. It’s “frustrating” to hear about problems students are experiencing near campus, they said.

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“Let’s give students who are already low-income affordable living so they can continue to be students,” Hammond said.

Richard Birch, who also attended the union’s first meeting, said he has experienced high rent while living at The Hub. The junior philosophy, politics and economics major said that while he was lucky to get an early discount on his lease, he still pays too much for one room.

Tenants need to organize, Birch said, because it is the only way to get lower rent and better living conditions. He is optimistic that more people will join the union over time.

“Things are getting tougher for a lot of people,” Birch said. “People, sooner or later, are going to realize that the best way to actually make things better is to just work together.”

The tenants union plans to canvass inside Terrapin Row on Saturday as its next step. The student liaisons want to meet renters in the apartment building to hear their concerns and spread the union’s message.

College Park is a prime city for exploitative landlords — but also for a student body that’s ready to rise up, the liaisons said.

“We have an opportunity to shape that public policy and to shape the public policy that we actually see in our buildings and in our lives,” Sprinkle said.

This story has been updated.