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For college students, the ongoing pandemic is making this fall semester a challenging one in many ways, including when it comes to student housing.
In the spring, colleges and universities all across the country closed their campuses and residence halls, sending students packing to finish their semester from home. Now, some schools have re-opened their campuses and dorms for the fall semester.
Helping your student choose the right dorm or off-campus apartment is usually enough of a head scratcher. But with COVID-19 potentially affecting your student's health, or the possibility that an outbreak could shut down campus again, signing a lease or an on-campus housing contract presents a whole new set of challenges.
Dorms and other on-campus housing typically come with the relief of a refund if your student’s school does need to close campus due to a coronavirus outbreak, something that already happened at the University of North Carolina just a few days after classes started. But off-campus lease agreements aren’t always so generous.
The question is: if your student’s college closes campus due to an outbreak, or if your student gets sick themselves, do they have any options to get out of their off-campus housing lease?
College is expensive, and any opportunity for you or your student to save money is welcome. Paying the monthly rent on an apartment that your student doesn’t need after they move home can be a hard pill to swallow.
Unfortunately, many state laws favor landlords when it comes to leases — if you sign a lease, you pay the rent until the lease is up, with few exceptions.
But in the current COVID-19 landscape, are there any exceptions? If your student’s school is closed due to an “act of God,” aka a global pandemic, are they stuck paying rent on an apartment that’s no longer safe or financially feasible for them to live in?
Here are our answers to some frequently asked questions about off-campus student housing leases during the coronavirus pandemic.
Your student’s rental agreement should outline situations which will allow them to break their lease. This is called a break clause.
A typical break clause may include being victim of domestic abuse, the death of a loved one, or being called to serve in the military.
Before 2020, “global pandemic” wasn’t something you'd find listed in house or apartment break clauses! But that doesn’t mean it couldn't be added, which brings us to our next question.
Yes — if both your student and the landlord agree to the changes. Whether your student is looking to sign a new lease on an off-campus apartment or is currently stuck in one they don’t want, they can propose amending the lease with their landlord.
You could add the event of full campus closure as an exception that will allow your student to break their lease. Or you could negotiate a postponement on paying rent, cancellation of late fees, or any other condition that you think will help protect your student.
The landlord is likely eager to fill open units in the current climate, so they have an incentive to work with your student to find a solution that works for everyone. There have been many reports of landlords being understanding that this is a unique crisis, and remaining open to finding ways to work with students who need to break their lease.
Be sure you and your student do your research or seek legal advice before signing an amended lease agreement. You don’t want any surprises!
In general, a landlord is happy if someone is making rent. If your student needs to get out of their lease, a good strategy may be to try to find a new renter or a subletter to take their place.
Before starting the search, your student needs to talk to their landlord to make sure this solution would be acceptable. The landlord will likely want the new tenant to go through the same application process as a traditional renter, so keep this in mind — your student isn’t off the hook until the new renter has signed a lease agreement of their own!
One challenge with this solution is that the pandemic is affecting everyone, and many students will be in the same boat as yours if campus closes. As such, finding a new tenant to take over your student’s lease may be difficult.
What can your student do if the landlord won’t change the lease, and they can’t find a new tenant? Our next question addresses this issue.
If all the above options have failed, it’s time for your student to reach out to their local tenant union or tenant rights organization, if one exists. These are typically available in larger cities, and help renters defend themselves in difficult landlord situations.
These organizations also can provide advice, tips and resources for your student, so it’s a good idea to know how to contact them for help if and when problems arise.
Finding quality off-campus housing can be a powerful way to save money in college. But it isn’t necessarily easy.
Even before coronavirus, the search involved apartment hunting, reviewing the lease, competing with other students, and settling on a spot that fits your college student’s budget and lifestyle.
Now there are even more considerations to keep in mind when looking for off-campus student housing, and we’re not just talking about the lease agreement.
At CollegiateParent, we’re committed to offering reliable resources for parents of college students, including when it comes to advice for finding off-campus student housing.
Big choices and big changes are on the horizon — don’t miss this important guide!