Renters’ rights: UA students share housing experiences

Catherine Hill, El Inde Arizona

Luke Wise got screwed over. 

During his second year at The Cottages, his rent increased from $757 to $895 in 2023.

“I did sign that lease, but I didn’t look at it too closely. When I realized how much my rent was, it really bothered me,” Wise said.

He said that the initial furniture addendum, the fee charged for furnished units, also increased by $10.

 “That was such bull(expletive) because we didn’t get new furniture,” he said.

  Although not illegal, hidden fees are a sneaky way to drive up costs and students often fall victim because they often don’t read the fine print of their leases. 

The University of Arizona does not have an avenue of support for students facing housing challenges, although it is hoping to launch the donation-based Dorm Stipend Fund in 2025 that will address housing challenges for lower-income students. 

According to the University of Arizona, the grant aims to “help low-income and/ or first generation students do better in school and graduate faster.” 

To be selected for this grant, eligible students should apply through their Scholarship Universe portal. Eligible students must “demonstrate financial need” and must commit to the UA, submit a completed housing application and maintain a status of degree-seeking throughout the duration of the grant. 

The Dorm Stipend Fund could cover anywhere from half to all of the cost for on-campus housing. 

Wise’s experience is not unique and it is one of three that illustrate some of the pitfalls students face when renting. 

Victim of circumstance

Wise, a UA political science and film student, works as an Uber Eats driver to support himself. 

Wise renewed his lease in March after other moving arrangements fell through. 

“I signed it after the period to renew, so I signed it as if I were a new renter, even though I had lived there for two years,” he said.

During his first year at the complex on East 22nd Street and South Park Avenue in 2021, Wise complained about the gunshots he heard outside of his window. 

“Generally, the shootings peak in the summer,” he said. 

His concerns eventually subsided as he adjusted, although the shootings around the outside of his neighborhood continued.

But the worst thing, he said, was when his air conditioning broke in the middle of the summer.

“It was broken for four months,” he said.

When the temperature inside his apartment hit 100 degrees, Wise left and moved back home with his parents in Surprise for the summer. But the air conditioner in his apartment kept running even though he wasn’t there, driving up his electric bill to $700 for the summer, he said.

 “I was like… ‘you’re not supposed to get that’,’’ Wise said.

Two years earlier, his summertime electric bill was $250. After Wise brought this issue up with the complex’s front office, he received $200 in credit, but he still had to pay the remainder of the bill.

According to PeakMade, the insurance company of The Cottages, damages such as “property malfunctions,” are not covered. Property manager Venus Sweetland said tenants are responsible for any damages that they cause, and when issues arise, tenants should reach out to their property manager.  

Cool find, but not without its pitfalls          

UA animation major Elisa Kinsey works on campus to support herself. Over the summer, the 20-year-old sophomore rented a house with five friends. Together, they pay $2,200 per month. 

“It felt unreal getting a house… I felt super proud of myself. I cried when we moved in because it felt like I was actually becoming a real adult,” Kinsey said of getting approved for the house.

Kinsey lived in Manzanita-Mohave dorms her freshman year. Although her rent is relatively affordable, Kinsey is car-dependent. Since she does not have her own vehicle, she must rely on her roommates to get to school and work on time. Living far away to save money  limits her mobility, especially when she needs a ride, and not having a car limits her access to reliable transportation. 

Not only does it limit her when it comes to school and her on-campus job, but Kinsey also has to rely on others to get to the grocery store. 

Coach surfing to the finish line         

Illustration and design student Dietz is graduating this spring. For now, Dietz is between residences, often couch surfing with friends. But they’ve also experienced homelessness, including during a transition period between moving to Tucson from Alaska. 

“It’s cold at night,” said Dietz, who was working during this time. “There’s a physiological element to it, too. You’re very aware of who can see you.” 

Dietz, who is well known for their political art, gained mass recognition among students for their portrayal of the administration’s initial response after the Meixner shooting. Dietz is a student worker at The Center for Digital Humanities.

         Dietz, 26, transferred to the University of Arizona from Pima Community College. Dietz experienced culture shock after transferring, “going from a school that was working class to a school that was predominantly wealthy was really hard because you feel like an alien sometimes,” Dietz said.

         Although Dietz felt that the university provided adequate resources for tuition, “there’s always a financial aspect ,.. . There’s this idea that you’re going to live here,” Dietz said.

       Students choose between two high prices: rent rates in apartments within walking distance or parking fees, Dietz said. Either way, they said, there’s a financial burden.

The Cottages at sunset, a popular student housing complex. Catherine Hill, El Inde Arizona

The sun sets in a fiery blaze  over The Cottages, housing rentals. Catherine Hill, El Inde Arizona

El Inde Arizona is a news service of the University of Arizona School of Journalism. 

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