Seasonal Shuffle Again

Now begins a yearly ritual: the search for affordable summer rentals. College students from around the world are already searching for arrangements. Those attempting to work the Island tourist season for the first time are often unaware of how daunting this can be, and they leave it for after the spring semester, or, worse for them, until they arrive on Island.

The historical truth about renting for the season on a shoestring is that, without Island connections, rental terms can be extortionate and conditions, substandard. Nightmare stories abound of treehouses, greenhouses and outhouses, of landlords who operate summertime slums built from clapboard and spider-infested scrap. Plumbing is a luxury at rents below $500 a week.

Most Islanders at least know someone who knows someone who rents out a shed for some extra income. That many of these sheds are no more than that is a testament to the willingness of our young summer labor force to take what they can get, to see “roughing it” as part of the charm of Vineyard summers. But how rough is too rough? Living out of a tent up-Island on someone’s beautiful back lot can certainly be a charming and memorable experience, but what about living in an unused Oak Bluffs garage, sleeping pad laid out beside ancient rusting cans of engine oil and a makeshift kitchen above a grease-smeared workbench with an overloaded wall outlet?

While the bulk of summer student labor rentals are decent, or at least, “charming,” there are exceptions. And then it’s time for the community to stop looking the other way and the towns to pay closer attention to these handshake, back-door rental agreements.