Like clockwork, the crazy rush to find housing and re-sign leases on South Hill and in Collegetown begins every August and September. However, an ordinance is on the table to potentially mitigate the process.
The Ithaca Common Council is considering an ordinance that would enact a 60-day waiting period before landlords could look for new tenants or renew leases with current tenants. The 60-day period can be waived if both the landlord and tenant agree in writing to bypass the waiting period.
Supporters of the ordinance said if passed, the proposal would give students and other renters time to settle into their apartments and see if they are satisfied with their current living situation before facing the decision to renew their lease for the upcoming school year.
Graham Kerslick, common council liaison to the Rental Housing Advisory Commission and representative of the Fourth Ward, drafted the proposal after consulting with officials in Ann Arbor, Mich., who enacted a similar ordinance in response to complaints by students at the University of Michigan.
The Ann Arbor legislation has a fixed waiting period of 70 days. Kerslick said the legislation in Ann Arbor didn’t achieve what it was put in place for, mostly because tenants didn’t know about the rule.
Kerslick said the proposal is essentially meant to give both tenants and landlords time to think about their living situation before both parties make additional commitments.
“That really gives the existing tenants and the landlords time to get to know each other a little bit, check out the living situation and then decide if they really want to renew,” Kerslick said. “It’s a little unfair for people to commit for the year before they really know what the living situation is like.”
Mitch Paine, a member of the Board of Public Works and the RHAC, said for a normal housing market in a college town like Ithaca, a healthy vacancy rate is 5 to 10 percent, and that vacancy rate gives flexibility to renters. Paine said there is a housing shortage for Ithaca community members.
“The vacancy rate in Collegetown is almost zero. It’s about 1 percent, and the vacancy rate for the whole city averaged out is probably about 2.5 percent,” Paine said. “It’s just very unhealthy and very low. It causes this problem, particularly in these high-demand places like South Hill for a lot of IC students and Collegetown for a lot of Cornell students.”
Rob Flaherty, president of the Student Government Association and co-chair of the RHAC, lives off campus. Flaherty said he had prospective tenants at his door last June trying to look at his house for the upcoming 2013-14 school year. Flaherty said he thinks the proposal is a step in the right direction.
“It’s 60 days, and students usually start their lease in August, [they] won’t live there the first month and then come [back to Ithaca] the last week in August, so really, it’s only 30 days. Thirty days is really still — it’s not perfect — but it still is a good amount of time, and it helps to stop from starting [leasing agreements] earlier and earlier,” Flaherty said.
The proposal was first discussed at the planning committee’s April 8 meeting. The proposal is now circulating for comment, public input and input from city staff at meetings or via email. After that step, the proposal will go back to the planning committee at 6 p.m. May 8 for more discussion based on the input of the community, and they will vote on whether to send it to the Common Council. If the proposal goes to Council, Kerslick said it would most likely be on the agenda in June.
Paine said landlords who oppose the proposal suggested the 60-day waiting period is an intrusion into their business. He said it is an intrusion, but the ordinance is flexible enough so both parties can waive the waiting period if they agree to it.
Kerslick said the ordinance does not solve the shortage of housing problems in the city, but it is a step in the right direction to address the housing problem.
“I drafted a memo to accompany this proposal, which really stressed that by itself — this legislation, this notification period — won’t solve the problem,” Kerslick said. “It’s part of the solution, which also involves promoting rental development in terms of increasing the supply of rental accommodation. There’s a shortage of rental accommodations for everybody, it’s not just students, although obviously it’s primarily affecting students in terms of where they want to live, which applies the pressure in certain areas.”