The lure of spending senior year at Fairfield Beach is proving strong enough for some students to sign binding housing contracts long before they are officially released to live off campus.
According to Erin Connors ‘15, this year’s junior class has been particularly aggressive in hunting down beach houses: “Most people have a house figured out and have signed leases,” she said. “Obviously the University tells you not to sign leases before the lottery,” Connors added. “But realistically if you want to have a certain house, landlords aren’t going to wait for you.”
Connors decided that she wanted to live at the beach during her freshman year. However it wasn’t until spring semester of sophomore year that her friends looked for a house in earnest: “During finals week we literally just went to the beach and started knocking on doors,” Connors recalled.
Connors and her friends signed the lease on the Crow’s Nest, located just off of the Point, last week, putting themselves at the mercy of the off-campus housing lottery results that will be announced on Monday. “We tried to wait as long as possible,” Connors explained. “If we waited any longer, our chances of getting a house were not going to happen. We got lucky with one of the last houses on the Point.”
“People who try to be careful and do it by the books get screwed,” she added.
Associate Director of Residence Life Charles Sousa says that this decision to sign a lease early can put both students and the university in a difficult position. “Every student that comes into Fairfield University signs a 4 year housing contract,” said Sousa. “Just because you have an outstanding lease with someone off campus doesn’t mean that we’re going to release you.”
“Every year, we get students signing leases after their freshman and sophomore year,” Sousa said, saying that the exact numbers are “always a mystery.”
In Connors’ opinion, however, her class is representative of a new trend that pressures students to sign leases early into their Fairfield careers. “I feel like it’s getting earlier and earlier,” said Connors of the beach house selection process. “The class below us is doing the same thing. The class ahead of us was more normal. “
Compared to Connors and her peers, the process of choosing a house for Hannah Sullivan ’15 was almost leisurely. Now a resident of the Stumble Inn, nicknamed for its close proximity to the Seagrape Café, Sullivan and her friends started looking for a house during the first semester of their junior year, and signed the lease in January, still several weeks before the University officially approved them to live off campus.
Sullivan said that she first made the decision to live at the beach “freshman year when people started talking about it,” and adds that the “fun atmosphere” and “close-knit community” played a key role in her decision-making.
“It seemed like an integral part of the Fairfield experience,” Sullivan explained. “It also seemed like a transition to the real world, with a landlord and property that you are responsible for.”
Although the housing lottery is still some days away, Sullivan says that the Stumble Inn has been toured by several groups of juniors, one of which has already been promised the house for next year.
In extreme cases, students have been so eager to live at the beach that they have been willing to circumvent their housing contract with the University by paying for both university housing, and rent for a beach house, according to Sousa.
“It’s an extremely expensive option,” said Sousa, adding that this year’s beach houses rented for anywhere from $30,000 to $110,000.
Sousa said that much of the pressure to sign a lease early comes from landlords at Fairfield Beach, who try to create a distorted perception of supply and demand amongst potential student renters.
According to Sousa, the supply and demand for beach houses is about equal. However, some landlords convince students that the demand is much higher than the supply in order to keep their prices high. “At the end of the day, they’re trying to get as much money from the student population as possible,” Sousa said.
Connors found this to be just the case when dealing with her future landlord, the owner of the Crow’s Nest. According to Connors, her landlord initially accepted her groups’ offer of $44,000 for the school year. “I thought we were all set,” Connors recalled.
However a week later, Connors’ landlord called again, and told the group that he had received an offer from another group for $46,000. Connors and her friends were then given two options: to either match the competing group’s offer, or relinquish the house altogether.
“I was so frustrated, said Connors. I thought I had a house and I didn’t want to start again.”
In a panic, Connors called her father for advice. “He told me to cry,” she said. “So I cried and he said he would talk to his wife and get back to me. He called back 30 seconds later and said ‘All right, the house is yours.’”
Although Connors emerged from the dispute victorious, the experience left her doubting her landlord’s intentions. “Who knows if someone else offered the $46,000 or if he was just trying to scheme us into giving 2,000 more dollars.”
Yet in Sousa’s opinion, the potential dangers of signing a lease early are not only financial. Groups of freshmen and sophomores who sign leases run the risk of having to live with people with whom they are no longer necessarily friends. “When you think of who your friends are freshman year, these groups change,” said Sousa.
At the opposite end of the spectrum are students that decided not to rent beach houses until late into their time at Fairfield.
Senior Conor Shea originally decided to live in the Townhouses, however he says that he and his friends are now trying to rent a beach house for the second semester of their senior year. “It’s my last ever semester at college and I want to enjoy it at the beach,” Shea explained.
After meeting with Residence Life, Shea was told that if he and his friends could “find a house and get everyone on board,” then they would be approved to live off campus.
Shea said that he and his housemates are now in the process of finding a house, and added that there are “a few left.”
According to Sousa, Shea’s tactic of waiting may not be such a bad idea for students trying to live at the beach on a budget.
“I know people who sit back and wait for the dust to settle and then tell the landlords that everyone’s got a house rented and this is what we’re willing to pay for rent,” said Sousa. “Then they negotiate that price down, in some cases people get it for half of the price that the landlords are asking.”
While Sousa said that the off-campus release rate has hovered at around 50 percent for the last few years, he cautions students to wait until they are released to sign any type of contract, saying that there is little that the University will do if lease-holding students are not released.
“Basically you would need to figure it out with your landlord,” he said.
Connors said that for the most part, she is unconcerned with the looming lottery results. “If I get an email that says I haven’t been released to the beach, then we’ll have to figure it out from there,” she said.
“For the most part everyone gets released,” added Connors. “I don’t know that many people who are living on campus that tried to live at the beach.”
While much of the Fairfield student body seems to be clamoring for a place at the beach, others don’t regret their decision to stay off the sand. Senior Ola Oyawusi decided to live on campus for his senior year, saying of the beach, “Everyone wants to drink every day, especially Saturday mornings, said Oyawusi. “It would affect my schoolwork.”
Oyawusi added that commuting from the beach would make it difficult to attend classes every day. “I don’t have a car, but if I did, I’d be driving back and forth every day eating up gas.”