As the clock struck three Wednesday afternoon, UC Davis student Steven Yin had a major conundrum on his hands.
Yin, 21, had three oversized boxes and a pile of blankets sitting in the parking lot of The U apartment complex in Davis. But his black Volkswagen sedan could fit no more.
“This is ridiculous,” Yin said in Mandarin, shaking his head.
This was the fifth and final time Yin had stuffed his car to the brim before driving off to a friend’s house in San Jose. It seemed like a lot of effort to keep his belongings safe while he waits to move into his new apartment Sept. 9, when he will repeat the process – in reverse.
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Yin, an international student from Shanghai, and other UC Davis students interviewed said they had no choice but to employ such measures since most leases in the city end Aug. 31 and don’t start until Sept. 1 or later.
Some resort to living out of their cars, while the fortunate ones stay with a friend who isn’t changing apartments. Others spend the week at home with mom and dad, or even check into a hotel. Either way, the result is a mad dash to secure moving trucks and storage space.
Roughly half of UC Davis students participate in this annual ritual, say local landlords, making this the largest migration of people in the Sacramento region.
“Turnover is inevitable. Students like to try new things,” said Shari Houston, director of resident relations for Davis-based Tandem Properties, one of the top players in the local rental market.
At Tandem, leases end Aug. 31 and start Sept. 1, so students aren’t in flux for too long, Houston said. Management hires an army of paint and cleaning contractors to perform the herculean task of turning over about 500 units overnight. All told, 400 people participate in the exercise, for which planning begins several months in advance.
But for students whose leases don’t start on the next day, creativity comes into play.
“They just store their stuff in the trucks,” said Chris Trudell, marketing company president for U-Haul of West Sacramento. “It’s definitely one of the busiest weeks of the year for us.”
The venerable U-Haul truck is favored for its ability to double as a mobile storage unit, since students can park and lock it up for a night or two. The company struggles to fill reservations during this period, and students flock from as far away as Fairfield to land a rental.
Yin didn’t know about the move-out frenzy ahead of time. As a result, he couldn’t find a truck rental for more than a day – or an empty storage unit. Driving 100 miles to San Jose for storage wasn’t ideal, but “what can you do,” he said. His last trip came on Wednesday, as he tossed his corgi, named Maybe, into the front seat, along with a vacuum and basket of cleaning supplies.
Many students have complained about the awkward lease terms, but in a town where rental vacancy rates have hit rock bottom, they may have little recourse.
“We have no room,” was the answer graduate student Scott Newell received when he asked for a brief extension of his lease at West Village, a sprawling, privately owned apartment community on the UC Davis campus.
The landlord at his new house in downtown Davis wouldn’t allow him to move in early, either, Newell said. So he moved back in with his parents in Roseville.
A 2015 report commissioned by UC Davis shows that vacancy rates for the nearly 9,000 Davis rental units dipped to 0.2 percent, as university enrollment surged and available units remained stagnant. The 2010 vacancy rate citywide stood at 3.4 percent.
While hotelier and real estate owner Reed Youmans has benefited from the low vacancy rate, the longtime Davis resident said it was “tragic” that the town doesn’t have enough housing for the university community.
“The lack of housing is the problem,” Youmans said in the lobby of the Hallmark Inn, which he owns along with a handful of apartment complexes nearby. “I want what’s best for this community, and we need to be growing. A community is like a living organism.”
Incidentally, the hotel saw a burst of business last week, and the front desk received several phone calls from frantic parents seeking reservations for their children.
Youmans’ apartment communities stagger the leases, so everyone isn’t moving out at the same time, which he finds easier on the staff and residents.
Newell’s friend, Tamara Miller, attributes the persistent migration of students to ever-increasing rents, likening the rental market to a monopoly because demand far outpaces supply. There is no choice but to accept the lease terms however they are written, she said, since most students are unwilling to commute from Woodland or Sacramento.
“We all have to be here,” said Miller, 30, a graduate student in plant sciences.