Grad Tips: Renting

April 5, 2024

By Katya Hrichak

As a graduate student, you have a lot to learn. Scholarship and research aside, there are many facets of the graduate school experience that are important to your success but might not be obvious or easy to figure out. Between achieving a sense of well-being, attending to basic needs, maintaining relationships or caring for others, etc., there’s a lot to keep track of.

The Graduate School is here to help. With the Grad Tips series, we’ll be providing insight into different aspects of the graduate student experience, sharing tips and advice on how to get the most out of your time at Cornell. To vote on the next topic in the series, check for a poll in upcoming issues of the Graduate School newsletter, News and Events.

This week’s topic: renting and tenants’ rights

Mice. A malfunctioning heater. Conflict with your roommate. A landlord who won’t respond to your concerns.

Renting an apartment or a house can occasionally lead to some unpleasant circumstances, but Cornell offers resources to support students grappling with housing problems.

Denise Thompson, a manager with Cornell Off-Campus Living has seen it all, and encourages students facing difficulties with their landlords to reach out as soon as they experience trouble.

“We help with everything,” said Thompson. “It doesn’t matter how small someone might think it is or how big it is, our office will help—and if we aren’t the right people to handle it, we will get you to the resource that will help you handle it.”

What resources are available to me as a student renter?

Cornell Off-Campus Living serves undergraduate, graduate, and professional students, as well as faculty and staff, providing resources and guidance needed to take the next steps and problem solve. From mold and insects in your living space to figuring out an ideal budget, starting conversations with your landlord, and even figuring out how to navigate a tricky situation with a roommate, Thompson has information and resources that can help.

Off-Campus Living also manages a listings platform of available area rentals. The office works with the City of Ithaca Building Department’s certificate of compliance database to ensure that the units listed are up to city standards. The site is free to use for those with Cornell credentials and has been particularly helpful for graduate students who are looking to either sublet their apartment or want to sublease another apartment.

“We really offer a kind of concierge experience for the Cornell student,” said Thompson. “My goal has always been for whoever comes to my office to leave better than they showed up.”

Finding housing that feels safe and secure is integral to academic performance, mental health, and overall well-being. If students encounter difficulties with any aspect of their housing experience, they do have options and support when they need it.

Janna Lamey, senior assistant dean for graduate student life, has helped numerous students navigate rental disagreements, and points out that the communication between renters and landlords is key. If students find themselves in a difficult life circumstance, like major health problems that require a health leave of absence, it’s best to keep open lines of communication with the landlord to determine what the options are and what the landlord may be able to do to help support them in their particular situation. It is also true that having an issue with the basic need of housing may impact a student’s academic progress and alerting their faculty mentor can be a support during a challenging life situation.

I’m an international student. Will conflicts with my landlord impact my status?

Among international students, Thompson said, a common misconception is that disagreements with a landlord will jeopardize a student’s standing at Cornell. Often, international students hesitate to reach out for support when they face housing difficulties because they fear the university—or even the federal government—will penalize them. Not so, said Thompson.

“International students who might be having some struggles with their landlord should know that this doesn’t affect their visa status, it doesn’t affect their status at Cornell, and it doesn’t affect their ability to come in and out of the U.S. or even find a job,” she said.

What are my rights and responsibilities as a renter?

Tenants should know what their rights are, said Thompson, and that those rights exist regardless of their status—whether they are domestic students, international students, Cornell-affiliated, or external to the university. Renters can access the New York State Residential Tenants’ Rights Guide online, and anyone interested in discussing how it applies to their individual situation can speak with someone in Off-Campus Living. Physical copies of the guide are available in the office, and Thompson or another team member are able to walk through it with individual circumstances in mind.

Renters also have responsibilities, she said. A lease is a binding contract, and both parties have to agree to make changes to the contract. If you’re considering breaking a lease agreement because of difficulties with your landlord or the conditions of your rental space, make sure to reach out to Off-Campus Living for help and support.

Not everyone will experience difficulty with a roommate, landlord, or housing arrangement, but all students are encouraged to familiarize themselves with the resources available and rights afforded to them.