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Gephardt: College Students Struggle With Off-Campus Housing Contracts

PROVO, Utah — Utah college students living in off-campus apartments have demanded their landlords and property managers let them out of their leases, now that schools have moved to online instruction and encouraged students to go home during the coronavirus outbreak.

Christian Jones said he was beyond frustrated. His daughter came home from BYU to quarantine at home with family.

She has not been able to get out of her lease for a BYU-approved off-campus apartment. Jones contacted the property manager for help.

“They basically told me (it’s) business as usual,” Jones said. “You’re still beholden to your leases. You’re still beholden to pay rent every month, even though your student is not there. It was their choice to leave.”

Jones said his daughter’s housing contract has a clause – Section 23-B – that spells out how students can exit their leases if they leave “school due to a verified, unforeseeable and unexpected catastrophic loss or serious illness.”

He argued it doesn’t get much more serious than a pandemic.

“There’s a reason why she’s home, and that’s to be safe and make sure that disease doesn’t spread,” he said.

Jones was far from being the only one making that argument. In fact, a petition invoking the same clause on Change.org with over 17,000 signatures demanded students be let out of their off-campus housing contracts.

“The right thing needs to be done at this point in time,” said Jones.

Redstone Residential, the company that manages CollegePlace Provo where Jones’ daughter resided, said in a statement, they cannot offer a blanket release for the 6,000 BYU and 3,000 UVU students they house across several properties.

Just because there is a pandemic did not mean their financial obligations to mortgages, utilities, payroll, maintenance, taxes just go away.

Redstone officials told KSL this wasn’t the first time Jones’ daughter tried to break her lease.

Jones said his daughter had gotten a summer job in Southern Utah and couldn’t find someone to take over the lease and asked to be let out.

He said, it “had nothing to do with the outbreak,” and they dropped the request when they were told, “No.”

As for that clause in the BYU off campus housing contract, Redstone Residential said it is, “designed to release a student who has fallen ill and needs to receive treatment in another place.”

If a renter were to test positive for coronavirus, the case may turn out differently.

“We are handling resident needs on a case-by-case basis,” Redstone officials said in statement. “Anyone with Covid-19 will be released from their contract, and we will work with residents who have experienced a documented loss of income.”

In an email, a BYU spokeswoman told KSL, “If an individual student contracted COVID-19 or any other serious illness, they could expect to be released from their contract” for off-campus housing.

While the university has released on-campus students from their contracts, officials say they don’t have the authority to mandate landlords release off-campus students from their legally-binding contracts.

Also, Section 23-B of BYU’s off campus housing contract begins with a line that states, “if a student leaves school,” and switches to online learning, that isn’t the same as leaving school.

“In an effort to help slow the spread of COVID-19, BYU is conducting the remaining Winter and all Spring 2020 classes only via remote instructions,” KSL was told in an email. “BYU does not consider any student who is enrolled in and taking classes remotely for credit under these circumstances to have been ‘discontinued’ from school.”

Jones argued a student should not have to wait until they have fallen ill to get out of their off-campus lease.

“They have chosen to go home to feel safe, to make sure that they’re quarantined appropriately — and now, they’re still having to pay rent for air,” he said.

As far as citing the off-campus housing contract’s clause 23-B to break a lease because the student has lost their job amid this COVID-19 outbreak, BYU said that will have to be dealt with on an individual level.

“If BYU students cannot come to a resolution with a property owner or manager, they can go through BYU’s mediation and arbitration process through the Center for Peace and Conflict Resolution,” said a spokeswoman.

The struggle between landlords and off-campus students has gone well beyond Brigham Young University. The KSL Investigators have gotten emails from frustrated students and parents from schools all over the state.

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