In Airbnb Era, Colleges Count on Housing Contracts to Deter Dorm-Room Rentals

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Want to spend a weekend in Chicago? At a rate of $320 per night, plus taxes and fees, you could stay at “Samson’s Estate,” which, according to a listing on the popular rental website Airbnb, offers wireless Internet, air conditioning, two beds, and a half-bath, shampoo included…

Students

ant to spend a weekend in Chicago?

At a rate of $320 per night, plus taxes and fees, you could stay at "Samson’s Estate," which, according to a listing on the popular rental website Airbnb, offers wireless Internet, air conditioning, two beds, and a half-bath, shampoo included.

The catch? It’s a dorm room at the University of Chicago. Or, at least, it was advertised that way, featuring an image of the university seal and the description: "a quiet dorm in the middle of Uchicago’s campus in the Max Palevsky dorm."

Citing safety concerns, colleges generally put language in housing contracts that forbids students to rent their dormitory rooms. Even so, that Chicago rental offer is hardly one of a kind.

(A University of Chicago spokeswoman, Marielle Sainvilus, said on Wednesday that Airbnb dorm rentals were "not an issue on our campus." The user who had posted the listing didn’t respond to messages seeking comment. When told about the ad, Ms. Sainvilus said, "That’s expensive." Later she said in a written statement that the university’s policies would make it "extremely difficult" for a student to rent his or her dorm room. Shortly after that conversation with The Chronicle, the ad was removed.)

Jack Worth, a sophomore at Emerson College, in Boston, is facing penalties from the institution for listing his room on Airbnb. As of Wednesday afternoon, an online petition of support for him had more than 400 signatures.

"He saw an opportunity to help travelers be able to afford to stay in the downtown Boston area, and earn himself some money to help offset the expense of attending the college," the change.org petition reads.

In a written statement, Emerson said its housing contracts with undergraduates "prohibit students from subleasing or renting college housing units or beds to protect residents and the community from exposure to safety and security risks."

Conversation about those risks is growing among student-affairs administrators, said Allan Blattner, director of housing at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and president of the Association of College and University Housing Officers — International.

But campus officials aren’t yet scouring Airbnb and other rental services for posts from students. They are hopeful that restrictive housing contracts will serve as deterrent enough. Many institutions, Mr. Blattner said, are "specifically reviewing" the contracts to ensure they take a clear stance on renting rooms.

If campus officials do find themselves on Airbnb, it’s often to list rooms on the college’s behalf.

The University of Toronto, for instance, is using the service to fill empty dorm rooms. Aldo Sdao, coordinator of summer-residence operations, said campus officials were looking to attract anyone seeking short-term housing in Toronto.

While the dorms have always been open to the public during summer months, and the university has used other third-party sites in the past, this is its first time with Airbnb, he said.

Students at Toronto, however, are not allowed to do the same with their dorm rooms, Mr. Sdao said. "Students can’t sublet, and if they are caught they will be punished."

That position arises from a concern about the fundamental purpose of dorms, said Mr. Blattner.

Dormitories "are a resource that are built and maintained so students can get an education, not people they would rent to," he said. "It comes down to being about safety."


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