This post was updated March 5 at 5:39 p.m.
College marks an era of learning: how to survive midterm season, how to decorate a dorm and how to live away from home for the first time.
And for students living in apartments, it also means learning how to navigate a world of unreliable landlords.
The dynamic between Westwood’s landlords and student renters has long been strained. Poor communication, unfair leasing practices and a general lack of consideration for tenants leaves students feeling disrespected by those in charge of their new homes.
But because they’re often first-time renters, students don’t have enough know-how or are simply too scared to push back. Their hesitation to act leaves them at the liberty of their landlords, which causes uncomfortable living situations for many Bruins. This power imbalance is intimidating, but it won’t change as long as students lack an understanding of their tenant rights. Inexperience and limited affordable options leave students at the whim of landlords, and getting educated seems to be the only option to effectively alleviate the exploitation.
In the status quo, the misconduct is obvious.
Tomi Fennell, a fourth-year international development studies student, said one day he was locked out after his landlord did a showing of his apartment.
Fennell said he walked to his landlord’s office, where he was not able to get access to another key without leaving a credit card as collateral.
Additionally, he said his landlord ignores almost any concerns he and other tenants have.
“He will be literally midconversation with somebody on the phone that’s expressing a concern about something serious in our apartment, and he’ll just hang up,” Fennell said. “Then if you try to call him again, he’ll hang up while it’s ringing.”
According to state law, if landlords do not respond promptly to complaints, tenants are within their rights to get help from the Housing and Community Investment Department. But for students just moving off the Hill, resources like these are not common knowledge.
Landlords benefit off the scarcity of affordable housing in Westwood by capitalizing on students’ fear of not finding a place to live – and the maltreatment continues throughout their entire landlord-tenant relationship.
Westwood rent isn’t cheap, and a lot of trust goes into renter-landlord agreements. Students don’t deserve to have their rights neglected – not to mention blatant disrespect from their landlords.
Several landlords were contacted for comment and all declined to comment on record.
Maggie Miller, a fourth-year psychobiology student, said water began pouring from her ceiling one night and caused the fire alarm to go off. Miller said her landlord blamed her for the situation by suggesting she threw water at the fire alarm after hearing it go off.
“It seems as though they felt we were incompetent,” Miller said. “There was never trust in us, it was always skeptical and always coming from a place of ‘Oh you probably did it,’ but I think most often, people don’t throw water at a fire alarm.”
Westwood is a beautiful area and students who earned a spot at UCLA deserve to enjoy living in it. Instead, Bruins are backed into a corner when landlords take advantage of their lack of knowledge and options.
And for many, that undue stress often begins before move-in.
While competition already exists naturally for Westwood’s limited apartment space, unfair leasing processes create unnecessary anxiety. For instance, a standard lease in the state of California is around 10 pages or less, but many students said their leases were between 20 to 30 pages and contained oddly specific requirements.
Miller said the lease at her previous residence forbade doormats, and another Westwood building mandates that the apartment stay above 72 degrees at all times.
It’s evident that students are not treated as ideal tenants.
But to be fair, perhaps it’s because they are not.
Student renters represent a group with a high turnover rate and a reputation for being messy and inexperienced. At the end of the day, a landlord is running a business for which students are not the most desired customers.
Further, while students spread their grievances to friends and respective landlords fairly quickly, they often do not enact legal challenges or formal complaints – and as such, landlords have no motivation to change their ways.
And motivation isn’t just low among landlords.
Miller said her security deposit was withheld after she moved out because of damages that predated her move in, but she decided not to challenge building management.
“We just wanted to get out of there,” Miller said. “It wasn’t worth fighting anymore.”
Fennell said residents in his apartment building have floated ideas of lawsuits against their landlord, but because their stay is so temporary and their resources so limited, it never feels worth it.
Of course, many factors like time and financial resources play a role in students’ struggle to fight back, which allows the unfair practices of many Westwood landlords to run amok. Although understandable, their same timidness perpetuates the cycle of poor living standards for students as a whole.
Bruins have resources to understand their rights, and if they want to see long term change in the Westwood renters market, they owe it to themselves to start getting educated.
The college learning process is more than midterms and dorm rooms; it’s also learning to stand up to people on a power trip.