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Fear not, first-years: Don't rush to sign leases

Miami University's Off-Campus Outreach department reports an excess of student apartments in Oxford available for lease. Yet, many students are told by their peers that, in order to secure a space, they need to sign a lease up to two years in advance.

According to the Off-Campus Outreach department's website, there are over 17,000 beds off campus available for Miami students to rent. As of October 2018, there were just under 20,000 total students enrolled at Oxford's campus.

Miami requires students to live on campus for their first two years. Taking this into account, as well as students who commute, there is an excess of beds for all students who want to live off-campus.

According to Sam Perry, Oxford's community development director, there are about 5,000 houses and apartments approved for occupancy in Oxford, but bedroom space in many homes is underutilized because bedrooms were designed for more than one person.

"A lot of the rooms that the city has on register as rentable are not fully occupied because they're [meant to be] shared bedrooms," Perry said. "The apartments may have been built at a time where occupants would have shared bedrooms, and now they're less willing."

Perry said bedrooms are required to be at least 70 square feet per person and that many bedrooms in Oxford homes are 140 square feet.

Though there are many off-campus apartments available, many students feel pressure to sign a lease as early as two years before their planned move-in date. Charles Kennick, ASG's Secretary for Off-Campus Affairs, thinks the pressure may be a lasting effect from past years, when housing options were more scarce.

"Off-campus housing is slightly glorified, especially at various high-profile houses that I think get freshman and other underclass students worried and stressed about finding that ideal place to spend the 'best years of their life,'" Kennick said.

According to Oxford landlord Tony Miller, pressure to have leases signed so early is caused by the influx of student apartment complexes built in recent years.

"All these new buildings Uptown, they wanted to show that they had leases so they could get their construction loans," Miller said. "Banks started tightening up and they started pushing it real hard to get tenants so they could show they had occupancy."

Miller says most of his tenants signing leases this semester are sophomores in the class of 2021, signing on houses for their senior year.

However, signing a lease too far in advance can hurt students whose circumstances change.

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According to the Off-Campus Outreach website, 58 percent of Miami students study abroad or away during their undergraduate career. Signing a lease before deciding to study abroad could require a student to find a subleaser or force them to pay rent on a space they do not live in.

Other unexpected situations, such as health problems, could arise in the years between a student signing a premature lease.

According to the Off-Campus Outreach department's website, the average monthly rent in Oxford is $503 for a room in an apartment and $584 for a room in a house. The site also includes a link to the U.S. Department of Education's Federal Student Aid site that gives budgeting tips to college students. The site says to afford a monthly rent of $500, a student should be making $1,200 per month in income.

Oxford residents have expressed concern that student housing is unnecessarily taking up too much space in Oxford. According to Perry, this concern has been around for more than 40 years.

Mile Square, the name given to an area in Oxford dominated by student housing, used to be traditional family homes occupied by Oxford residents. Citizens are concerned student housing will keep extending to outlying areas, but Kennick said it is unclear if Miami's enrollment numbers will increase enough for this to happen. According to Kennick, increasing enrollment is currently "almost physically -- and, allegedly, fiscally -- impossible for the school to do academically."

According to Perry, the main concern Oxford residents have is off campus students' level of cleanliness.

"Students aren't the best about picking up trash," Perry said. "They get together and just leave beer cans on the front porch."

Perry said the city zoning board is concerned there could be a domino effect in converting houses to be rentals. According to Perry, if one house on a street converts to become a rental, the likelihood of other houses doing the same rises.

Nevertheless, real estate companies continue to develop new housing complexes in Oxford. CKC Rental Agency, LLC is plans to build a new set of brownstone apartments called Gaslight Avenue in Stewart Square, set to open for the 2019-2020 school year. Their site advertises both four-bedroom townhouses and two-bedroom flats.