A Normaltown Resident Is Priced Out of the Rental Market

“Guess we’re gonna have to find somewhere else to live next year,” I informed my roommates on a dreary March evening. So begins the tale of woe that will involve my slogging through rental houses and Craigslist ads, possibly all the way until mid-July, when my current lease ends and fate determines whether or not I am left homeless.

Overly dramatic? A bit. But I’ve been a renter in several different cities and countries, and I have to say that the Athens housing market is truly baffling me right now.

We moved into our new place this past August—my boyfriend, another friend, two cats and me. The house was a typical Athens rental: old house, lots of cockroaches and some sort of toxic waste barrel in the backyard that was never removed despite our request, but in a great location (Normaltown!) with lots of outdoor space at a doable price.

Our lease mentioned something about a “right of refusal” being at the end of October. In case you haven’t encountered this situation before, as I had not, apparently that meant we had three months to decide if we wanted to renew our lease for the following year before they put our house back on the rental market. Three months!

By October I don’t think we had even gotten all our furniture settled into place, let alone given thought to renewing the lease, so we didn’t give that legalese a second thought. Surely, a decent landlord would ask us about our plans for the next year and let us know that someone else was wanting to sign a lease on our house.

It turns out rental companies aren’t kidding about that right of refusal. The property manager blazed right ahead with showing the house twice in the first week of February—and then there were no more tours. Spoiler: If you’re a tenant who hasn’t yet decided where you want to live next year, that means they’ve already rented out your house, so you’re gonna have to move your butt out whether you want to or not. But of course our landlords didn’t actually tell us they had rented out the house. It was only in March, when I glanced around their website, that I realized our house was not listed in the available houses.

So now I’m on the market for a house to rent starting in mid-July. Naturally, the company has a lease that ends in the middle of the month, leaving us either stranded for two weeks before the August cycle kicks in or with two weeks of overlap if we’re fortunate enough to find a place to rent in July. (Two weeks for them to clean the house before the next tenants. Ha.)

I can’t imagine that my situation is a unique one, and I’m shocked at how little affordable housing there seems to be that fits my needs. I’m currently in the market for a cat-friendly two-bedroom house with a yard

that’s around $800 a month (total, not per person) and located in Normaltown, Boulevard, Cobbham or Five Points (basically anywhere that isn’t car-dependent). I know these places exist, because I’ve been sniped out of a few, and it’s heart-wrenching every single time. I can’t even begin to count the number of places that fit most-but-not-all of my requirements. And don’t even get me started on the management companies who have made craigslist a joke with their daily spam of overpriced student condos. (Editor’s note: Try the Flagpole classifieds.)

As an adult in my late 20s with some savings under my belt, I occasionally peruse the listings of houses for sale on the off chance I get to stick around Athens after I graduate. So I know what the mortgages on these rental houses are, and I know that we as renters are being absolutely fleeced. A house in Normaltown that leased this year at $840 per month is being increased to $1,000 per month starting in August. A mortgage on a place of that size purchased now should be well under $500, and you can bet the house was purchased long before Normaltown became such a desirable place to live.

So to all the students whose parents are bankrolling them for overpriced rentals that are subsequently driving up rent across town: Must be nice.

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