Students displaced by lease gap

Every year, misaligned housing leases cause students to be displaced. In the period between one lease end and another lease beginning, there is a consistent 20-day gap among local apartment complexes.  

During this time, students who cannot return home are effectively homeless and have no choice but to float couch to couch for nearly 3 weeks. Additional issues arise in the storage of personal belongings. Storage units are booked weeks in advance, and some include a policy where units can only be rented on a day-of basis. 

Caroline Hufnagle, a senior at WCU moved out of the University Suites on July 16 and moved into Rabbit Run Apartments on Aug. 1.  

“My family lives 8 hours away and I’ve become independent from them, so I didn’t have much of a choice,” Hufnagle said.  

“I’m also the color guard instructor for Pisgah High School and within those 17 days was our 3 weeks of band camp which sometimes went from 11:00 a.m. – 9:00 p.m. so I just did what I had to do,” Hufnagle said. 

Photo by Liam Bridgeman

Though Hufnagle understands that it takes time to renovate apartments between tenants, it doesn’t make the situation any less inconvenient.  

“It was pretty frustrating; I also was trying to work full time when all this had happened. So, the whole process was probably the most logistically stressful thing I’ve had to do since being in college. I thankfully had the help of a really kind friend, who had a big enough car and a great attitude which made a huge difference,” said Hufnagle.  

Hufnagle was fortunate to have a Sylva local open their home during the displacement period, though not everyone can be that lucky. She also had to find an alternative means of storage for her belongings. 

“I had to use another one of my friend’s apartments this summer while she was away working at a camp. Every single storage unit in Cullowhee and Sylva were taken. The closest storage units to be found were in Cashiers, Waynesville or maybe Franklin,” she said.  

The most stressful part for Hufnagle was finding a temporary home for her items. She insited that more storage space needs to be accessible for student use. 

“There needs to be more storage unit availability for students. Whether it’s provided by apartments or the community of Cullowhee or Sylva. Places insist to make people wait so long to move into their new homes, there needs to be more resources available.” 

Reagan Manning was also struggling to find sleeping arrangements and storage solutions with her move from Riverwalk Apartments to Prospect Cullowhee. She was lucky enough to find a storge unit for her displacement period spanning July 30 to Aug. 5, but she still had to commute to Waynesville for a storage opportunity.  

Photo by Liam Bridgeman

“It was stressful because I wouldn’t have a place to live for a week and didn’t have funds to spend on a hotel or anything. I couldn’t go home; my parents live 7 hours away and I have a job up here,” Manning said.  

She was fortunate to stay with a friend during that time but was held back by having to lug around her clothes and personal items. “I didn’t want to feel like a burden by staying with a friend so that weighed in on the stress.” 

Though many students see this fate approaching when they sign a lease, few know what happens at the apartments during the displacement period. A member of a local apartment office staff, who wished to remain anonymous, pulled back the curtain on the work that occurs during those 20 days. 

“This allows us the time to fix any damages: broken doors, broken windows, holes in walls, etc., replace any broken furniture or appliances, put down new carpets if needed, paint the apartments, have the apartments cleaned. Carpets that were not replaced are then cleaned, then final inspection,” they wrote in a text. 

This takes up most of the time as each apartment needs to be inspected rigorously before a new tenant can move in. “If one of the vendors missed something, we have to contact them and send them back.”  

The process repeats for every apartment until all spaces have been prepared for move in.  

“We then ensure all paperwork for the new residents is completed, everyone has paid, everything is correct in our system, move-in packets are made. With the amount of rooms/apartments we have to get ready it’s super busy. At the end of the day, it’s a lot of prep work before the end of the lease,” they wrote.  

Photo by Liam Bridgeman

While this is an incredibly time-consuming process, many tenants enter leases unaware of this period which has led to confusion and anger.  

Following a conventional housing model may be the answer. Conventional housing prices typically cover the whole apartment with no utilities. When tenants decide to leave, they give anywhere from a 30-day to 90-day notice before moving out. 

With a 30-day to 90-day move out notice, more apartments would be available to rent at different periods of time. This would theoretically eliminate the displacement time gap.  

When signing a new lease, students are urged to pay close attention and prepare for possible struggles before the eventual bliss of a new apartment.