Boca Raton rental market poses problem for FAU students looking for off-campus housing

Rents in South Florida have skyrocketed by as much as 57% from the previous year

Jolie Tanner, Guest Contributor

Editor’s note: This story was originally published in The Sunshine Report.

It is no secret that there is currently a shortage of places for rent or sale in Boca Raton, and a surplus of people willing and waiting to pay top dollar. Even then, students are often at a further disadvantage due to strict homeowners associations (HOAs) and even stricter budgets.

In the current market, it is a very difficult time to move. However, with summer quickly approaching, many students are being forced to do exactly that.

“If you are in a good lease currently that will carry over to next year, staying put is wise,” said Dr. Ken Johnson, a real estate economist and the associate dean of graduate programs in Florida Atlantic University’s College of Business. “While it never hurts to explore other rental opportunities, leaving a sound lease in this uncertain rental market is just not a good strategy.”

Boca Raton real estate agent Allison DeMarco suggested that the hunt be started at least three months early. “On any given day, there’s almost twice as many buyers or renters than there are homes available,” said DeMarco. “It creates this auction-like atmosphere.”

This is not just a South Florida issue. The housing shortage has been felt nationally, with prices up 20% from 2021 and a shortage of over 5 million homes. According to one recent study, rental prices in South Florida cities have risen by as much as 57% since the previous year.

Students or those in need of something like a Department of Veterans Affairs home loan, or VA loan, are often last choices for those looking to rent or sell their place. “You have to get that person that’s got sympathy for your cause,” said DeMarco.

The overflow of people looking to rent or buy has provided HOAs and owners with an even broader spectrum to select from. “When they can choose who they want, it’s most likely not going to be students,” said DeMarco.

Last year, Leilani Piromalli, a senior at Florida Atlantic University, lived in a Boca Raton condominium complex called Boca Teeca. “I live a pretty quiet lifestyle so it wasn’t a conflict at all, but I faced discrimination on a daily basis from older residents simply because of my age,” she said. The owners of the space she was interested in were initially unwilling to rent to her and her roommate due to their age. “Despite having cosigners and bank statements, it felt like our money wasn’t green,” said Piromalli.

Other complexes do not allow students at all, in addition to those that are labeled as 55 and up communities. Even after securing a place, Piromalli still felt she wasn’t treated fairly. “Now, I’m under constant scrutiny from older residents for the dumbest things,” she said. “It made me feel dirty, even though I know myself to be one of the cleanest and kindest tenants you could ask for.”

Some HOAs have even made it difficult for people to buy a place with intentions to rent it out. “Without investors being able to purchase,” said DeMarco, “where are people going to live that need to rent?” Buildings can require that the individual live in the space for a certain amount of time before making it available to lease. “Some of them have gone from making you wait an entire year, to making you wait for two years,” said DeMarco. “And the investors are the ones that are really providing the housing for the renters.”

DeMarco also found that sellers will choose someone who is going to make the place their home before they will choose an investor.

Students, and renters in general, have been forced to compromise in other areas, like safety, due to high prices and a low supply. DeMarco is currently working with a family that was hoping to find a three-bedroom place, to allow room for more children in the future. However, they were forced to look at two-bedrooms condos because it is all they can afford in the current market.

Demarco shared that those with smaller budgets struggle to compete in today’s market, and have been pushed out of deals as a result. Some people looking to buy or rent have even gone as far as to offer an entire year’s rent in advance. According to DeMarco, others looking to buy have even proposed contracts more than $200,000 over the asking price — in cash.

It has become a market where one must find what is available and try to make it fit their needs. “You have to find what you can financially make happen and what you have the largest chance of winning the bid on,” said DeMarco. “It’s no longer what you necessarily desire.”

The days of simply finding what one wants, putting in the offer, and moving have passed. “You can see obviously how that creates a huge crisis in the rental market, and I don’t use that word lightly,” said DeMarco.

However, the rental shortage has been 15-plus years in the making and will not be made up in the near future, said Johnson. The heightened prices and lack of available units has been fueled by the rapidly increasing population in South Florida, both permanent and temporary.

The question is, what — if anything — can the university do to help students in this situation? “The university could absolutely choose to build more student housing on and off campus, or provide incentive for developers to build more student housing and subsidize it,” said Piromalli. “They recently completed the construction of a new dorm building, but that seems to just cover their current housing commitment.”

However, Johnson stated, “There is nothing the university can do to influence the private rental market surrounding the campus.” And instead, students should seek out additional roommates to combat higher prices, as it is “the most likely and easiest solution to the current rent crisis.”

Unfortunately, DeMarco shared that two to three-bedroom rentals are often harder to come by, due to high demand by students looking for the most affordable option.

With no end in sight, it looks to be a long and expensive road for students hoping to live off campus, if no aid can be provided.