With asymmetry of information a major concern for students looking for housing off-campus. The Office of Residential Life is launching a website dedicated to simplifying the search. This new hub of housing information allows realtors to maintain listings of off-campus options, and visualizes those properties on a map to be reviewed by prospective tenants. Realtors will be encouraged to include photographs and floorplans with their listings, as well as extensive descriptions and contact information.
The Off-Campus Housing Site can serve as a powerful resource that connects students with available properties, and also educates students before they go into potentially high pressure negotiations with realtors. Students’ uncertainty when they are likely, working with realtors for the first time, is often exploited in the process of signing their leases, with a lack of information on the availability of other spaces and the price of comparable properties stealing away negotiating power from students.
The Office of Residential Life also plans to delist “problem” houses with negligent landlords or deception lease information. If the site is widely adopted, it will increase the sense of accountability and transparency among those who maintain and lease out the off-campus.
Following the site’s rollout, the addition of a rating system for landlords and tenants could significantly increase its usability. The housing site should employ a system similar to that of “Uber,” which allows drivers and riders to rate one another. This manner of rating when leasing off-campus properties would restore a sense of service and responsibility in the landlord-tenant relationship. This could also work well with the city’s aim of improving safety conditions in off-campus spaces.
Worth noting is the Office of Residential Life’s refusal to list properties in violation of the city’s “No More Than Four” rule. Although a necessary concession in complying with the city, this decision will significantly decrease the number of listings on the site. In a Boston Globe Spotlight report, it was projected that 80 percent of Boston College students living in off-campus residences were in violation of this rule. While the success of the site could encourage landlords to retrofit spaces to comply with the rule, a no tolerance policy by the University, in the short term, will bar the majority of available properties from being listed on the site.
Adding transparency to the off-campus housing process, this new site has extraordinary potential for prospective leeses, and at the very least should be used as a jumping off point for those planning to live outside University dorms. If the site is properly advertised to realtors and students, it should grow into an important environment for the off-campus community, providing benefits to those on all ends of the lease agreement.
Featured Image by Graham Beck / Heights Senior Staff