Students stuck with off-campus apartment leases after schools shut down due to coronavirus

ByRandall Yip KGO logo
Tuesday, April 7, 2020
Students stuck with apartment leases despite coronavirus shutdowns
Students nationwide are paying rent for apartments they left empty in order to return home after their colleges shut down due to the coronavirus

HERCULES, Calif. (KGO) -- Thousands of students nationwide are paying rent for apartments they left empty to return home after their colleges shut down due to the novel coronavirus. Many wondered if there's a way to get out of their lease.

So 7 On Your Side looked into it.

Cole Coverson is back home with mom in Hercules after Sacramento State, like so many other schools, moved their classes online.

He still has four months on a lease he shares with other students, and his landlord isn't letting him out of it.

That's $3,400 he's putting out for something he's not able to use.

"That sometimes hurt. When you see that money go away for something you're not using," said Cole.

His mom Drew called her son's landlord to see if she could cut him a break on his rent.

"She said they had gotten a lot of calls, but as of right now, we signed a lease so it's legally binding," said Drew.

Jacqueline Ravenscroft is a tenant's right attorney based in San Francisco. She suggests tenants who want to get out of an apartment look closely at their leases.

"They're typically known as the 'act of God' clauses," said Ravenscroft. "If there's a hurricane and it destroyed your house and the lease is terminated. Or a 'frustration of purpose.' If the house can't be used for what it was typically rented for, then the lease can be terminated."

Ravenscroft says it's unknown whether a pandemic might be considered an act of God, but it's something you can use to negotiate with the landlord.

"Landlords also have an incentive to work out a deal with the tenants because they want at least get an ability to get some of the rent or rent the unit to another tenant if the tenant isn't coming back," she said.

If a new tenant moves in before your lease expires, your obligation to fulfill the lease would end except for any back rent you might still owe.

"I just have to pray and hope I get some type of compensation for the months I'm not going to be there," says Cole.

Cole pays his own rent out of his own pocket, so you really have to feel for the young man's predicament. Unfortunately, there aren't a lot of options for those in his situation.

Editor's note: An earlier version of this story incorrectly identified the first names of the Coversons. We apologize for the error.

Take a look at more stories and videos by Michael Finney and 7 On Your Side.

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