Should College Students Sign a Lease for Fall 2020?
When students at Indiana colleges were sent home due to the COVID-19 outbreak, many were left making months of lease payments for an apartment they couldn’t use. Purdue President Mitch Daniels has released a plan for students to return to the West Lafayette campus in the Fall semester. IU and Ball State are continuing to evaluate plans for the evolving health crisis. However, college students and their families must evaluate the financial cost of committing to a lease during an uncertain Fall semester.
College Student Leases Often Contain Hidden Costs
When evaluating whether to sign a lease for the Fall 2020 semester, students should make sure they understand the total cost of the lease. In addition to monthly rent, leases can include additional fees for:
Prorated portion of water and sewer
Damage caused by freezing pipes
Activity fees to use swimming pools, exercise facilities, and tanning beds
Redecoration fees upon move-out
Some of these services must be paid for, whether a student uses them or not. Most leases provide that utilities cannot be turned off during a period of absence. If students are sent home due to a COVID-19 outbreak during winter, they could be on the hook for the cost of a burst pipe.
College Lease are One-Sided Against Students and Fail to Provide for Student Safety
College apartment leases are drafted to favor the building over students, often in extraordinarily unfair ways. Landlords know most students will not read a lengthy lease or have an attorney review it. Standard lease terms do not provide for life during a pandemic, and landlords have no incentive to revise leases to protect students.
Students considering signing a lease should ask these questions:
What steps will the landlord take to keep students safe during the COVID-19 outbreak?
If the landlord or maintenance workers enter the unit, will they be in protective gear?
How frequently will common areas be cleaned with alcohol-based solutions?
What polices and practices of the landlord have changed due to the COVID-19 outbreak? If there are none, BEWARE!
What Can College Students Due to Protect Themselves from an Unfair Lease?
Students must be proactive if they want to avoid a significant financial obligation for an apartment they cannot use. College towns such as Lafayette, Bloomington, and Muncie may have more vacancies than normal if some students decide not to return to campus. This could shift leverage to negotiate a lease in favor of students.
Students seeking housing should take these steps:
Identify multiple housing options and compare the total cost
Read the entire lease and make sure you understand it
Seek to negotiate an early termination or reduced rent in the event an outbreak requires remote learning during the lease term
Confirm the lease requires that the landlord is following recommended health and safety guidelines
Students facing an uncertain future must take precautions when returning to college campuses. This includes carefully evaluating apartment leases and understanding the financial risk.