Swindling the students

The problems surrounding Greek senior housing.


Senior houses on W Nelson Street in Lexington. Photo by Elena Lee, ‘25.

Will Pittman

I think most people would agree that midway through the second semester of your freshman year of college, you are still getting a grasp on things. You are still meeting new people, establishing friendships, finding what you want to major in and what groups and extracurriculars to be a part of. Your friends’ parents are not yet asking you what you plan on doing after college, and it seems like your time at Washington and Lee University is just getting started.

You can then understand why I was absolutely taken aback to learn, midway through the second semester of my freshman year, that I had to decide where and with whom I was going to live during my senior year. Still baffled, I thought maybe that this was just how Greek housing worked at universities.

Not the case! Without fail, every person outside of Washington and Lee I have told about this reacts with surprise and disbelief. I mean, let’s just quickly understand the assumptions that go with signing a lease for a house four years before you are going to live there.

First, it assumes that the people you want to live with during your freshman year will be the same people you want to live with during your senior year. A bold assumption. Next, it assumes you will be living in that house beginning in the summer (at least in my lease) of your senior year until the end of the academic year. Great internship or summer program that lasts until August? Better rethink that, else you’ll waste $1000 worth of rent you are paying to not live in your house. Couldn’t study abroad your junior year and want to do it during your senior year? Scratch those plans! Decide you really think a big school is a better fit and want to transfer? Sorry buddy, you signed the lease contract.

It’s not that the students are blind to these issues. Everyone agrees that signing a lease for your house as a senior when you are a freshman is patently absurd. But then they shrug their shoulders and tell me “yeah, but there’s nothing we can do about it.”

They are sort of right. Through the years, the traditional and “most desirable” Washington and Lee senior real estate (stuff on and around Windfall hill) has been monopolized by one family.

It is my understanding that they own the houses on or below Windfall hill: Windfall, Lower Windfall, Pumptown, Downwind, Downfall, Upwind, Kwan, Nostril, Graceland, County Seat, etc. They are very aware of the fraternities that align with each of these houses and reach out to them year after year to continue renting. They also know that there are fraternities desirous of other fraternities’ houses. It seems to me that this is how they are able to keep pushing, making the lease contract be signed earlier and earlier.

Fail to sign the lease when they want you to? Oops, looks like Downwind will be Pi Kapp’s house senior year. Sorry, but they were willing to sign the lease when we wanted.

And what else do landlords do when they know they have people who will sign the lease to their houses pretty much no matter what? Why, upcharge of course. When I first saw the contract for my senior house I immediately knew the price was steep. I did a square foot/price average for the surrounding houses in the 24450 zip code through Zillow and found that the house I was signing a lease for was a 144% percent increase of this average. And this doesn’t even take into account the quality of the space they are upcharging for (if you have been to Windfall hill houses you know that they are, to be blunt, pieces of sh**). One of the “rooms” in Windfall (still have to pay $580 a month for it) is about one third the size of an average Gaines freshman dorm room (not an exaggeration, I assure you).

Windfall hill is not the only place where this happens. According to sorority members I talked with living on Kappa hill, they had to sign their leases in February of their freshman year (with a different landlord), and their leases are also around $580 per room.

Look, I am not oblivious to the fact that most of these houses, as party houses, should be considered in a very different manner than other houses in the area. I think any landlord should have rates that take this risk into consideration and maybe even have a bit of a stricter contract. But the situation as it exists is out of proportion. 

These landlords have enveloped us in a system that ensures students every year pay these hefty prices, and the landlords in turn reap heavy profits. But when Mom and Dad are paying for your housing, you aren’t going to do anything more than agree that the system is absurd and continue smiling as you sign away thousands. “Mom,” you might have said as you raised your hands and shrugged, “this is just how it’s done every year.”

Except when I reached out to a class of 2019 graduate asking when he signed his lease for a Windfall hill senior house, he told me it wasn’t until March of his junior year. 

One of the solutions could be if the IFC and Panhellenic Council get involved. If, as collective Greek organizations, we were to put our feet down and demand fairer prices and reasonable lease signing dates, I think some change would be in order. I am not a part of either of these councils, but if you are reading this and you are, I would ask that you take up this cause.

It may be too late for the class of ’25, who have by now already signed their leases for their senior year, but we can save the class of ’26. These landlords for years have licked their lips at every incoming class. They put the pen in their hands and the lease contract in front of them before they even have their first Fancy Dress. We have been suckered into this singular and truthfully abysmal system of Greek senior housing. We all recognize that. Now let’s change it.