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Despite virtual classes some students stuck with apartment leases

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Posted at 8:44 PM, May 18, 2020
and last updated 2020-05-19 14:50:20-04

SAN DIEGO (KGTV) - Many classes for the fall term at San Diego State University and other California State University schools will move to virtual instruction to help stop the spread of COVID-19.

That decision leaves some students and their families who signed off-campus apartment leases locked into a contract with no in-person classes to attend.

"You don't want them to be anywhere other than near you and safe," said Ana Ruiz.

Ruiz's daughter will start her junior year at San Diego State University in the fall.

She co-signed a lease for an apartment at the BLVD63 apartments down the street from the campus back in December.

With classes moved online, Ruiz said there's no need for her daughter to be away from home. Only they aren't able to cancel the lease.

"You're assuming that people are going to do the right thing," Ruiz said. "How are these property management companies going after college students for housing that they no longer need."

Ruiz said she understands the legal obligation of what they signed. She hopes lawmakers step in to help all parties involved.

"I don't know what the solution is with this, but I'm hoping that the management company decides to just cancel these leases," Ruiz said. "I mean, what is so hard with just canceling the leases."

In a statement to 10News, a spokesperson for BLVD63 wrote:

Individual residents are free to speak about their personal lives and personal business. As a matter of law and of policy, however, as landlords we protect the privacy of our residents in their homes and in their business affairs. So I choose not to address any specific resident requests.
As an operator of residential housing in college communities, we do work with individuals who are adversely impacted by the coronavirus pandemic. We do that in a couple different ways. And I'll share more details down below. First, Pierce Education Properties manages BLVD63. BLVD63 is privately owned. It is not affiliated with San Diego State University (SDSU). It houses SDSU students. It also houses students at local community colleges and some non-student residents. University officials may close their residence halls. However, we cannot. We cannot shut down our communities. We cannot violate the leases of our residents. As an "essential service provider," we are obligated to remain open.
It is true some students have chosen to return home. However, presently 74 percent of our residents continue to reside at BLVD63. For residents facing hardship from COVID-19, we offer two available options. They may utilize our Lease Take Over program through which they can find a replacement tenant and be released from a lease. We also offer a Rent Deferral Program, where those in financial hardship may defer their May rents. So far, less than 1 percent of our residents have needed the Rent Deferral Program and also less than 1 percent has requested a Lease Take Over. Just as residents have binding lease obligations, owners of rental properties have mortgages; they must staff the properties; and they incur operating expenses to keep the properties safe, secure and open as required by law.
The SDSU instructional program for the fall is likely to be a mix of online and in-person classes. While there is uncertainty about the timetable under the Governor's Pandemic Roadmap, we expect a super-majority of students will return to school in the fall.
Separately, at our communities here and around the country, we are following the guidance of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and local health officials.
We have closed our property offices to residents, closed all property amenities and altered package delivery protocol. We utilize masks and gloves for any required entry into resident units. We regularly sanitize. We have replaced in-person tours with virtual tours. And we follow CDC protocols pertaining to self-monitoring and self-quarantine regarding any reported potential exposure to the virus by residents or employees. As a result, nationwide none of our 400 employees have tested positive for the virus and only two of our approximate 15,000 residents tested positive, and both have recovered and are in good health.

Ruiz isn't the only person 10News has heard from who said they no longer need their lease.

"I pay out-of-state tuition," said Jane. "So it's really kind of pointless to be paying rent in San Diego if I could live at home." Jane's home is in Las Vegas.

Before the pandemic, Jane said she signed a 12-month lease with a different apartment complex for the 2020-21 school year.

In an email to Jane, she says the property manager told her the only option was to sublet her apartment.

In the era of COVID-19, it may be difficult to sublease when students no longer need to be on campus to attend school.

"Some leases have early termination fees, some don't, some are generic, some are really complicated," said attorney Erin Rounds with the tenant's legal center of San Diego.

10News asked Rounds what rights students and their parents have.

"With these situations, it really just depends on what's in the lease itself, because technically what's going on right now does not fall within the California laws that say under what circumstances you can break your lease," she said.

Rounds said if tenants have questions, they should consult an attorney.

A spokesperson for Assemblymember Todd Gloria told 10News this is a situation they'll be looking into.

A spokesperson wrote, "Assemblymember Gloria remains deeply concerned about the pandemic's impacts on renters and landlords, and he is engaged in conversations in real-time about how to provide relief to each. We recognize there has to be a balance. I would note there is proposed legislation by Senate President pro Tempore Toni Atkins [sd39.senate.ca.gov] and Assemblymember Monique Limon [leginfo.legislature.ca.gov] (D-Santa Barbara) that seeks to address this issue, and our office will look into whether additional legislative action may be necessary."