Photo Courtesy UCLA Newsroom; Jesse Herring/UCLA and Emmett Chan
By Emmett Chan
LOS ANGELES, CA — UCLA undergraduate students renting local apartments face a unique challenge due to spring quarter coming to an end – living in Westwood is expensive, but compounding the problem is the fact that most apartment leases extend into the summer, since they last for multiple years.
Therefore, students who need the apartment for the next school year will be paying all summer for an unused apartment spot. One solution is to sublet for all or part of the summer— allowing another person to rent the spot from the tenant, who rents it from the apartment owner.
Some renters advertise their subletting opportunity on social media and find subletters online. But many renters sublet their spots to friends, a vastly more comfortable and intimate experience.
Subletting is a crucial element of the UCLA community during the summer; the process provides housing for many UCLA students and helps them discover ways to thrive within a convenient and affordable environment.
Incoming second-year Stephen Chang, a civil engineering major, recently discovered the unique experience of subletting. Chang is currently a subtenant for the summer, renting a spot in a local Westwood apartment building on Veteran Avenue.
He decided to take summer classes to get ahead in his extensive coursework and currently takes both asynchronous and in-person classes, admitting a lack of strong feelings regarding either option.
Despite appreciating the convenience of asynchronous classes, he prefers in-person classes. “I think that actually being in a classroom is definitely a better learning environment, for me at least,” says Chang.
At first glance, it may seem as though he entered into a subletting agreement solely to attend his in-person classes. But he also confesses that having the opportunity to live in a community with many of his friends influenced his decision to take in-person summer classes.
Chang’s summer living situation is a synergistic union of both practicality and desire— subletting enables him to take in-person classes, and taking in-person classes allows him to maintain a personal and constant connection with his friends that living at home or even in the dorms wouldn’t provide.
“One part of living on the hill that made it appealing during the school year,” Chang explains, “was that I was close to all of my friends and I could basically see them whenever I wanted. Most of the people I know who are staying over the summer are living in the same apartment building I’m living in. By living here, I’m able to keep that aspect of my life.”
Having never lived in an apartment before, Chang is adjusting to apartment life. Without the convenience of dining halls, he has to learn how to cook with little prior experience. Taking the challenge into stride, Chang has progressed in his cooking to the point where he can make basic meals for himself and all of his apartment-mates.
Aside from cooking, the other major change that came with apartment living was having to clean the bathroom himself, unlike the professional help that would clean any messes made in the residence halls’ communal bathrooms.
“If you don’t adjust, you won’t be able to do things. That’s like being an adult, I guess,” Chang muses jokingly. “If you’re unable to adapt to something like this, then you gotta grow up,” he declares, a smile spreading across his face.
Like many other students, Chang considers subletting to be a coming-of-age experience because it affords him a degree of independence that living in UCLA’s dorms doesn’t, and because it allows him to be a part of a community where social interaction is frequent and can occur in the casual setting of an apartment.
Incoming third-year political science major Mingwei Zhu, who is on a lease at the same apartment as Chang, provides a different perspective on subletting, as he had experience with the process during the spring and summer academic quarters in 2021.
Like Chang, he sought in-person community, which was an especially pressing need as the quarantine caused by COVID-19 began to end. Renting an apartment, at least in their building, is much cheaper than UCLA housing costs, and cooking food via groceries is much cheaper than a meal plan.
So coming into 2022 summer, Zhu knew that living in an apartment would be a much more affordable option than dorming, inspiring him to recommend the experience to friends, such as Chang— but not only for financial reasons.
Core to Zhu’s approach regarding apartment living is placing himself in a situation where he can thrive. Zhu notes that when he was a subletter last year; he was living with friends two classes above him, equipping him with experience: “I knew how to live on my own, take care of myself, take care of the space I live in and share the space with someone else— all as someone living there temporarily.”
But because his friends were able to cook for him, he was never inclined to do it himself. “Learning to cook has been something I’ve been trying to do for a long time, but I’ve never had the motivation to commit to it,” Zhu admits.
In his current living system, however, although he shares the apartment with two incoming seniors, most of his roommates are in or below his class. “I get taken care of less,” he observes. Since he is expected to cook not only for himself, but for others, Zhu was forced to learn how to cook— a crucial part of, as Chang alludes to, an adaptive process needed to live productively in an apartment.
Being in an apartment with more exposure to peers closer in age, as well as having friends within the apartment building, has allowed Zhu to thrive living in a more intimate community than the dorms, even during the school year.
“With five guys living here, we get to interact on a daily basis, play games, cook with them, watch shows,” Zhu explains. “This entire building is actually filled with people from my Christian fellowship, so it has been fun hanging out with them. Living in the dorms, especially during the summer, might be a little more isolating.”
Zhu also recognizes that social interaction, as important as it is, can be draining, so he sets aside time to both relax alone and focus on his studies—summer classes are especially critical for him, as he has only recently decided to pursue a double major in Psychology. And, he goes home most weekends, allowing him to spend more time to himself and with his family.
Zhu says that campus life during the summer differs greatly from during the school year, even though the UCLA campus is far from empty— there are students taking summer classes, students participating in research programs, tour groups, high school programs, and more.
In his view, everyone feels the absence of so many undergraduate students intensely, and furthermore, there is not much to do on campus, outside of academics, that is geared toward college students; the only recreational activity that Zhu participates in on campus are pickup basketball games.
Instead, his main priority is spending time with his friends who live nearby or around the area, and building a more intimate community—for both Chang and Zhu, this is what subletting is all about.