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Best way to live off campus

The four-bedroom house where Jen Sidorova rented and

The four-bedroom house where Jen Sidorova rented and lived for three years with three other Stony Brook University students. Credit: Jen Sidorova

When I attended graduate school at Stony Brook University and started the first couple of years of my career as a policy analyst about a dozen years ago, I rented from private landlords. They rented older houses around campus to students, a perfect option for a young adult like me. It was a more affordable alternative to on-campus housing, also providing me with a more grown-up experience than living on a college campus would.

Some benefits of renting from private landlords include flexibility of moving dates, having a yard, parking, and choosing one’s housemates. It also didn’t cost as much as professionally managed apartments. Moreover, the stringent screening rules that come with professional apartments are not accommodating to young people. They require high credit scores and steady income, none of which I had in my early twenties as a freshly minted immigrant from Russia.

Some people may forget that in the 1950s, Long Island was primarily home to America’s working class as compared to the more upscale suburb it has become. The current house ownership still reflects that history -- most Long Island landlords nowadays are everyday people. Many grew up in those middle-class neighborhoods and frequently rent out their parents' houses, or just a basement apartment or an extra room in the house.

One such landlord, Chris, a Polish immigrant, rented to me and three friends, each of whom also came from Russia. Not only did Chris let me keep my two cats, Belka and Klyaksa, he approved of my setting up a garden in the backyard. This gave me the flexibility that apartment complexes around the Stony Brook area never had. One time, when we were a few days late with the rent, Chris was understanding. Instead of serving an eviction notice, he merely reminded us that it was due and patiently waited. Another time, when a housemate moved out, he didn’t charge us that portion of the rent -- a few hundred bucks that make a huge difference to a twenty-something. Chris was a regular person just like us and understood our situation.

Now it’s my turn as I, too, am a landlord but in Buffalo. Just like my Long Island landlords, I rent three apartments in my house to young people. Last year, right around the holidays, a young couple asked me to break a lease early. I didn’t charge them for a full month, as stipulated in the contract. I recognized myself in them and let it slide, just as landlords like Chris had treated me when I lived on Long Island.

But now with the eviction moratorium a constant concern, I am worried about what will happen to landlords like Chris and me, who have lost control not only of rental income but also of our property decisions. Being unable to enforce rent collection makes it difficult to justify being a landlord. If this continues, small landlords might lose or have to sell their properties. I am also worried for the next generation of young people who won’t have as many rental options as I did. I don’t know where I would have been and what I would have done if not for private landlords like Chris.

Reader Jen Sidorova lives in Buffalo.

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