USC should do more to educate first-time renters

Students searching for off-campus housing must learn about their tenant rights.

(Arjun Bhargava / Daily Trojan)

For many, the recent email notifications from USC Housing about the USC Housing Renewal program served as a reality check. 

“As soon as I got the email to renew my USC Housing apartment, I realized: Do I want to stay with USC Housing, or do I need to start looking off campus?” said Matthew Chung, a sophomore majoring in business administration. “Because the USC Housing isn’t guaranteed.”

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Since USC students aren’t guaranteed University housing after their sophomore year, the majority of upperclassmen are expected to start living off campus. The housing search can begin as early as the first semester of your sophomore year — that is, if you’re even aware that you can (and probably should) start that early. 

Nikia Fenix, a sophomore majoring in media arts and practice, found the unspoken timeline of the off-campus housing search confusing. 

“I don’t know why [USC] doesn’t push a sort of timeline for students,” Fenix said. “A lot of people, especially if they don’t have connections to upperclassmen, don’t really know how long the process takes and when they should start looking.”

Once students know that they won’t be returning to USC Housing, they’re essentially on their own. University resources for students are limited to USC’s “partnership” with Off-Campus Housing 101, which compiles rental listings that are within the Department of Public Safety Patrol Zone but aren’t verified by USC or OCH. 

It also has a page about scam and fraud information, but it’s not easily digestible nor well-promoted enough to make a real difference. Fenix didn’t find the OCH101 website helpful in her search. 

“I remember looking at that website, but it honestly felt so disorganized that I couldn’t really process it,” Fenix said. “It was easier to reach out to individual leasing companies or do our own research on Zillow.”

The real kicker is USC and OCH101’s disclaimer: “All prospective tenants are encouraged to exercise common sense and good judgment when evaluating prospective rental units and landlords.”

When the off-campus housing search is this complicated, expensive and down-right confusing, it’s not always that easy to simply “exercise common sense.” Finding, signing and negotiating a lease often involves multiple back-and-forths with your landlord or management company. 

For Nicole Concepcion, a junior majoring in computer science, this process was difficult to navigate on her own. 

“Since my parents are immigrants and they don’t really speak ‘legalese’ … I tried to read through the lease as best as I could,” Concepcion said. “But I feel like there’s still something that I’m missing or something that I misunderstood.”

Common sense and good judgment can fail students even if they sign a lease with a large, well-known property management company. In 2023, Hub Los Angeles Figueroa — managed by Hub On Campus, which has properties at 26 universities — delayed its residents’ move-in date by three months, forcing tenants to find alternate housing during the semester. Students who rented from First Choice Housing, an established management company, have criticized the agency’s leasing policies and lack of maintenance. 

Students who are most likely renting on their own for the first time aren’t likely to know how to approach these issues with their landlord, lease or rental agency. You can’t just trust that you have common sense when it comes to being a smart renter in the search for off-campus housing; comprehensive education about your rights as a tenant and best leasing practices is necessary. 

Another part of USC and OCH101’s disclaimer comes to mind: “You are also responsible for understanding your rights and responsibilities as a tenant.” 

Yes, learning how to live on your own as a young adult is an unavoidable part of life. But providing better educational resources is part of guiding students on their journey to adulthood. Common sense and good judgment aren’t always enough.

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