Morehouse College senior and Michigan native Zuri Cheathem lives in an off-campus apartment near downtown Atlanta. Like many college students, he would like to end his lease since in-person instruction has ended for the spring semester and he has no other reason to be in the Atlanta area. However, his lease agreement said he cannot break the lease. CONTRIBUTED

With campuses closed, Georgia college students want out of leases

College students renting apartments near their campuses are urging their landlords and management companies to end their lease agreements now that their schools have ended in-class instruction and many have no reason to be near campus for the rest of the semester.

The response? No way.

Many students are paying more than $1,000 a month for rent, money they say can be used for future educational expenses or emergency needs as the coronavirus pandemic impact grows.

“I’m pretty mad about it,” said Lesly Alfaro, 19, a Georgia College & State University sophomore who rents an apartment with three roommates near the Milledgeville campus. “That’s money I could have used for my summer classes. That’s just around $2,000 I’m not getting back at all.”

Morehouse College student government association president John Bowers, 21, who is from Dallas, Texas, must continue to pay $1,320 a month for his Midtown Atlanta apartment. His lease, like many students interviewed, ends July 31.

“I haven’t heard of anybody’s story going any better,” said Bowers, as he and his mother packed his belongings Tuesday. “You shouldn’t have to pay for something you’re not using.”

Bowers’ girlfriend, a Spelman College senior from New Jersey, said the agreement for her Atlanta apartment had language that she could end the lease in the event of an epidemic. Her apartment owners, though, have told her she cannot stop making the $990 monthly rent payments. She said they suggested, to her dismay, she sublease. The Atlanta Journal-Constitution is not identifying the student, at her request, because she is in negotiations with the leasing company.

Several leasing company managers for the Spelman student, and other students interviewed, did not respond to specific questions about the disputes by Thursday afternoon.

Similar conversations between students and apartment owners are being had nationally.

Chief operating executives of about two dozen leading student housing companies held a conference call last week to share best practices and tips, according to the website Student Housing Business. Most companies said lease cancellations are not currently being permitted, the website said.

The public relations team for Bowers’ apartment complex, Signature West Midtown, said Thursday it sympathizes with students, but its standard policy is they must get another renter for the unit. The company said via email that staying in their units may be a better alternative.

“While we understand that some may want to move home during this time, we feel that in many cases, students’ current apartments offer a more optimal environment for social distancing (private bedrooms and bathrooms) as well as continuing their academic courses,” the representatives said.

Students have posted messages online in recent days urging classmates to “rally up” to demand refunds from their schools since on-campus housing is now extremely limited to prevent the spread of the virus.

The University System of Georgia, which oversees operations at 26 schools, announced Thursday that all of its institutions will offer partial refunds to students for housing and dining plans. All students, except for extreme cases, must leave their campus. Some Georgia private institutions, such as Berry College, Clark Atlanta University, Emory University, Morehouse and Spelman colleges, are offering refunds. Kennesaw State University is offering a $234 refund for students who have paid mandatory fees.

Many students — particularly from Georgia Tech — are frustrated by what they say are unreasonable time limits, less than 48 hours in some cases, to pack up. The school said Thursday it is offering additional move out times to some students and sharing information about local storage companies. U-Haul has offered college students 30 days of free self-storage.

Most colleges and universities require students to live on campus at least during their first year. Many students eagerly find their own apartments in their junior or senior years. The experience is often the first time these students have lived on their own without supervision.

The campus shutdowns are prompting nearly all students to return to their hometowns, without the need for an apartment, but still paying rent. There are some, like Morehouse College senior Zuri Cheathem, who are still in their apartments.

Cheathem, 21, originally from Michigan, has not returned there because of the rent costs, he just bought groceries and doesn’t own a vehicle. He reviewed his lease agreement Wednesday evening and read he could not break it. He lives in a furnished, two-bedroom apartment near the Georgia State University campus. His rent is $1,210 a month.

Cheathem said he’ll try to sublease.

“I don’t know how many people are willing to move into an apartment at this time,” he said.

One Georgia Tech student interviewed is also having a similar challenge subleasing her apartment. The student asked not to be identified because she has tried to get some relief from the management company.

The leasing company said in frequently asked questions on its website that “There are absolutely no changes to your lease or residency status at your community due to the university cancelling in person classes.”

The student is still hopeful they’ll come to her aid.

“There are so many people trying to find ways to help others,” she said. “I feel like (accommodating renters) would be a good example of that.”

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