Renting in Manhattan poses unique issues for students and community members alike. Renters face challenges like withheld security deposits, poor living conditions and landlords’ refusal to repair damages.
Ellen Andriani, junior in social work, had bat ticks in her apartment earlier this semester. She called pest control, who told her the property had a bat problem in the past. The price of clearing the apartment was $900.
“Property management [told] me and my roommates that we had brought them in and we had to pay for it,” Andriani said. “We had to walk … to their offices and demand that they pay for the pest control service because it was $900. They gave in.”
During the cleaning process, she had to couch surf at friends’ apartments for a couple weeks.
Andriani didn’t reach out to outside resources for help and said she was lucky her landlords paid the bill. However, there are resources for other students who face these issues, but many students don’t know their rights.
College students tend to expect a certain level of disarray in their rental properties during college, said Jessica Preston Kerr, community organizing and education chair of Manhattan Alliance for Peace and Justice. She adds it doesn’t have to be that way — and it shouldn’t.
“It’s not everyone, but there are some bad landlords,” Kerr said. “There’s a culture of not maintaining property and students pay the price.”
In addition, a large portion of renters in Manhattan are “rent burdened,” Kerr said, meaning they spend a significant amount of income on rent and can’t afford other necessities. The National Center for Children in Poverty define rent burden as spending more than 30 percent of income on rent.
“What is happening is that people are making choices over food, health care, books and important things that need to happen in their lives to pay their rent,” Kerr said. “Housing is one of those core human needs, and so that’s a pretty critical situation, especially when we’re thinking about students.”
The rent burden ratio determines the cost of living in certain cities in Kansas. Kerr said the rent burden ratio in Manhattan causes the town to be one of the most expensive places to live within the state. To combat these issues, many renter’s advocacy groups have sprung up.
“I think that when anytime community or people get together, it’s because things aren’t working for them in their lives,” Kerr said. “People who are both of the community and on campus just started to notice that the quality and conditions of housing were not what we had hoped they would be for our community and that the cost was really, really high as well. So it was those combined issues that forced people to begin to talk about them.”
Renters Together MHK is a renter’s union “fighting for housing justice in Manhattan” that seeks to address the issue of rent burden and create policy change to protect renters within the community. Kerr said their goals are to be a resource for tenants in Manhattan, implement a code inspection program and to benefit all Manhattan residents, not just renters.
In addition to community advocacy groups, Kansas State has resources for students on campus. In the Off-Campus Housing Support office, students can learn their rights as tenants and seek legal advice.
Zach Perez, sophomore in journalism and mass communications, is the student director of off-campus housing. He provides some legal advice to students as a consultant.
“My job really is just making sure people understand what their rights are as tenants and how they can protect themselves or be a little bit more proactive when it comes to legal issues they’re having with housing,” Perez said.
A large part of Perez’s job is informing students about the Landlord Tenant Act. He also takes statements from students about their issues and asks them to name the landlord or company they have had problems with. Off-Campus Housing keeps this data for future reference.
“We have had a lot of problems with Frontier,” Perez said. “Alliance, we have not had a lot but enough to kind of notice. Villa Fay is an extremely problematic one.”
Perez is also able to meet with roommates having disagreements, something that Sarah Barr, Student Legal Services attorney, cannot do.
A handbook on tenant rights is available on the Off-Campus Housing website. Barr said the handbook has not been updated in several years, but the laws have not changed.
Students may not feel like they have rights as tenants, but they have more power than they believe. Kerr said Renters Together gives a voice to students who haven’t had one before.
“It all starts with being an advocate for yourself,” Kerr said. “[It’s] realizing that you don’t have to live in a sub-quality rental situation or an apartment. But then also realizing that the biggest power that students have is in that collective voice.”