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Slumlords of The Hill: How Predatory Rental Practices Target College Students

The opinions expressed in this article are the writer’s own and do not reflect the views of Her Campus.

What’s not to love about living on The Hill? The most sought-after neighborhood for college students—The Hill—boasts many attractive qualities. A close walk to campus, plenty of late-night food options, and historic Boulder homes that you can live in with three (or maybe 12) of your closest friends! 

I too fell victim to the appeal of living on The Hill—and then I actually moved into my house. Picture this: basement unit, peeling laminate on the floor, every outlet loose, dirt-caked sump pump in the living room, concrete walls with no insulation, and a dingy prison shower to top it all off. All that for only $2,645 per month! 

This experience is certainly not unique in Boulder. Most of the homes on The Hill are around 100 years old and dilapidated in some capacity. And they are all exorbitantly expensive for subpar living conditions at best. So how are landlords getting away with this? Why do college students continue to pay such high rates for such unacceptable housing? The answer lies in predatory rental practices—such as monopolization, aggressive pre-leasing, and whatever the official term is for “doing the bare minimum simply because you can.”

The Big Three rental companies in Boulder are like Regina, Karen, and Gretchen in Mean Girls. You hate them, but you so desperately need them to like you or else your life will be insufferable Hell. Boulder Property Management, Four Star Realty, and Sunnyside Property Management are probably familiar names to you, and they may have even made you throw up in your mouth. You will find that most of the pre-lease options on The Hill and other college-y neighborhoods (like Goss Grove and East Campus) are owned by one of these three companies. This means that if you want to live close to campus, you have very few options other than renting with one of these slumlord companies (slumpanies, if you will). This allows a very select group of people to set the standard for housing expectations near campus, and that standard is on the floor. These companies are not forced to decrease prices or increase living conditions because even if students are unhappy, their other two options are just as bad. And because Boulder is a beautiful college town with already exorbitant rental prices, the slumpanies feel no pressure to keep their customers happy because there are a hundred more willing to take their place. 

Pre-leasing is another way that landlords in Boulder take advantage of college students. Pre-lease season begins in mid-October, so students are forced to pick a place to live, find enough roommates, sign a lease, and pay a deposit about two to three months into the school year. This does not give students enough time to find suitable roommates or properly evaluate their options before signing a lease. Not to mention, you’re paying first and last month’s rent on a property that you won’t even live in for another nine months. This creates an unnecessary sense of urgency and encourages students to legally and financially commit to whichever units haven’t been snatched up yet. 

Predatory rental companies and landlords know that college students have little to no experience with the norms and expectations of leasing and maintaining rental properties — and they use this to their advantage. Being aware of some of the tactics they use to target college students can help you rent more defensively and be wary of skeevy, sneaky little slumlords on The Hill. 

Sage Nye

CU Boulder '24

Sage Nye is a junior at the University of Colorado Boulder, studying sociology with a minor in journalism and a public health certificate. Sage is passionate about women's health, music, and ironic TikToks!
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