The condo conundrum: The trend to convert apartments into condos causes UCSD students to seek alternate housing options


New real estate trends are forcing UCSD students to live farther and farther away from the school.

Developers are converting apartments into condominums at faster rates than ever before throughout San Diego and in many areas of Southern California. The conversions usually take older, lower-rent apartment buildings and completely renovate them to create upscale condominums to be sold or rented at significantly higher rates.

In San Diego, the trend is most prevalent downtown, where a revitalization of the area has led to a demand for more housing, and in the University Towne Center area of University City, just across the freeway from La Jolla. Since 2001, at least five major apartment complexes in University City have been converted into condominiums. Many of the residents who were displaced by the conversions are UCSD students.

With University City among the most popular places to live for UCSD students who do not live on campus, the school has taken notice of the shrinking availability of affordable apartments in the area. Vice Chancellor Joseph Watson has created an on-campus workgroup to assess the situation and discuss possible solutions. Comprised of administrators, faculty, staff and students, the group held its first two meetings in the last two months.

Deborah Gordon of the school’s Off-campus Housing and Commuter Student Services office is a member of the workgroup. She said the condo conversion trend was a pressing issue for the campus.

“We’re very aware of what’s going on, the statistics are very clear over the last few years,” Gordon said. “We’re taking this really, really seriously. Although turning apartments into condos doesn’t necessarily mean they still won’t be available to students, we’re trying to figure out what we can do to make sure students have reasonably priced housing close to campus.”

Gordon said that since 2001, about 2,400 apartments in University City have been converted into condominiums. Five of the buildings - the Venetian, Nobel Court, Lucerne, Regents and Verana - were heavily populated by UCSD students prior to the conversions.

A student living in an apartment that is chosen for conversion faces a jarring experience in a number of ways. It would begin with a tenant receiving written notice of the building owner’s intention to convert the apartment and 180 days notice of termination of tenancy. After that, a tenant would receive either 30 or 60 days final notice to vacate a property, depending on how long the tenant has lived in the building.

In addition, some students face the ordeal of living in an apartment while other units in the same complex are undergoing the conversion process. This means that many tenants have to deal with the sounds of construction and remodeling in the final months before they lose their own unit.

A tenant of an apartment converted to a condominium is given the first chance to buy the new condo, often at a price better than is offered to the general public, according to UCSD’s Student Legal Services. For most college students, however, purchasing a condominium is simply not an option.

As a result, UCSD’s off-campus student population is spreading farther and farther away from the campus itself. Students would prefer to live in La Jolla and University City for their proximity to the school and other appeals, but rents have always been high in La Jolla and the condo trend is eliminating affordable apartments in University City, Gordon said.

“For UCSD students living off-campus, the most popular places would be La Jolla and University City, but they’re not the most populated,” Gordon said.

Instead, students are moving in increasing numbers to inland neighborhoods that are farther from the school, such as Mira Mesa and Clairemont.

“Students are moving farther out to places where the rent is cheaper,” Gordon said. “That’s a concern, because they’re having to travel farther and our community is getting spread out. But they want to get more for their dollars.”

Gordon said the full effect of the condo conversion trend on the rental market has yet to play itself out. She said vacancy rates in La Jolla and University City are still high, perhaps as a result of having rents that are too high.

“The vacancy rates are good. It’s a renter’s market,” she said. “We have landlords calling our office and saying, ‘How come this isn’t rented out yet?’ ”

Some La Jollans may be seeing a peripheral impact of the trend in their own neighborhoods. Bill Busch, a resident of Arenas Street, appeared before the La Jolla Community Planning Association at its April meeting to say that he has noticed an increase in recent years of students piling into homes in his neighborhood.

“I have nine college students living next door to me,” Busch said. “They’ve created a de-facto dorm, basically by creating bedrooms using partitions so they can put in more people than the house is meant for. And there are a few places like that.”