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Athens rental prices climb above other college towns'

Ohio University students on the hunt for off-campus housing should be prepared to shell out about $100 more per month than tenants in similar Ohio college towns.

Compared with rental prices for one-bedroom apartments in Oxford, Bowling Green and Kent, rent in Athens costs $730 more, $2,300 more, and $972 more per year, respectively, according to a Post investigation.

“(Owning rental property) is the most lucrative business in town,” said Barbara Harrison, assistant director for OU’s Residential Education and Off-Campus Living office. “Even more so than the bars Uptown.”

Students looking for a one-bedroom apartment in Athens can pay between $425 and $810 per month in rent. About 80 percent of the apartments researched do not include utilities in their pricing.

About 13,000 of OU’s 21,000 undergraduate and graduate students live off campus. The relatively low supply of rental properties near campus and the demand created by a multitude of students leads to the disparity in rental prices when Athens is compared with other Ohio college towns.

“We’re in one of the poorest counties in Ohio, but the cost of living in Athens makes it one of the most expensive places to live in the state,” said Melissa Greenlee, an attorney at the Center for Student Legal Services.

Ashley Wakefield, a senior studying pre-law and English, said her monthly payments for her one-bedroom apartment are very high.

“My rent is outrageous,” Wakefield said. “I pay $815 for my rent, and then with utilities, I pay close to $1,000 a month for my apartment.”

Wakefield lives on East State Street, about a 15-minute walk from Baker University Center.

In most cases, rent prices in Athens drop steeply as the distance from Uptown and campus increases.

A one-bedroom apartment at 166 N. Lancaster St. — about 20 minutes from campus — costs $450 a month, while a similar apartment at 41 Mill St. — less than 10 minutes from campus — costs $800 a month.

Greenlee said some students do not always have a firm understanding of how much their rent is or when it is due.

“We have students come in who don’t even know how much they are supposed to pay for rent,” Greenlee said.

More than half of the civil cases handled by the Center for Student Legal Services are between Athens landlords and student tenants, she added.

Despite the higher rental prices in Athens, some students have said the condition of the apartments does not reflect the higher monthly payments.

“When we moved into the house, it was in horrifying condition,” said Diana Pickett, a senior studying education. “It clearly had not been cleaned since the last tenants had moved out.”

Pickett shares her three-bedroom house on Putnam Street with two roommates and said they have asked their landlord multiple times to do a better job maintaining the property and to fix problems to no avail.

“Both the bathroom and the kitchen have mold on the ceiling, there are definitely mice living in the kitchen, and the roof above our very steep staircase leaks,” Pickett said.

OU students are not alone in their feelings about the prices and conditions of student housing in Athens. Harrison, who oversees off-campus life for students at OU, understands the perspective of students.

“We know how overpriced it is,” Harrison said. “I think Athens tries (to offer well-maintained houses), but there are some older homes out there.”

Students at other campuses do not find their rents “overpriced.” Erin Doran, a senior at Miami University, for instance, does not find her $620 monthly rent exorbitant.

“The house is less than four years old and in great shape with hardwood floors,” Doran said.

The OU Off-Campus Living office work closely with city officials to ensure that houses in Athens are up to code with city requirements but major issues occasionally slip through the cracks, Harrison said.

City officials conduct yearly code inspections on every rental property in the city, but it is up to tenants to report any maintenance or code violations city officials might not catch.

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