When college campuses across the country began to shut down due to concerns over COVID-19 and students started heading home, some anticipated they would return within a few weeks, as did Sara Kephart.
“I came home and never went back,” she said. “I have one suitcase of stuff that I thought was going to last me.”
Kephart thought she would return to the house she was renting from a local landlord in Providence, Rhode Island and to the room that had become her own.
Now, stuck in a contract Kephart has found herself having to pay rent for a room that for the past two months has sat empty.
She’s not alone. Many college students who took advantage of off-campus housing options have found themselves bound by contracts and leases that they signed months ago, even though they are no longer living in those residences.
Irene Hafner has a daughter who attends Florida State University. In February they re-signed the lease on her off-campus apartment for another academic year, meaning they are locked in until June 2021.
Hafner said she is hesitant to confront the rental company because she feels like she doesn’t have a valid argument for why they should be allowed to stop paying rent.
“I kind of feel like what grounds do I have to stand on,” she said. It’s frustrating though, she said to keep paying for an apartment that is sitting thousands of miles away unused.
Hafner said she feels very fortunate though that she and her husband are in good financial standing and are able to keep paying the rent.
Deborah Henry agreed. Her daughter attends Towson University and has a lease on an off-campus apartment until next year.
“We’re lucky we’re in a position to be able to [pay] because there have to be some families out there that aren’t able to do this because they’ve had people who have lost their jobs and can’t pay the rent,” Henry said.
She added that the situation is stressful though, and wishes the management company would at least reduce the rent for the time being.
Kephart said she feels like college students are being taken advantage of because many rental companies know students have parents and families that will back them up financially.
“They don’t care what is going on, they are probably really happy they’re still getting their money,” Kephart said.
The Johnson & Wales senior said she’s lucky that her parents helped her out with paying rent these last few months but that she still had to find a job after coming home in order to support herself financially with other expenses.
All three women said there has been no communication from any of their landlords or rental companies about the current situation and possible rent forbearance or assistance.
Kephart will be out of her lease in a month but for Hafner and Henry the road to freedom is a long one.
Henry said they are happy to keep paying the rent if Towson plans to re-open for the Fall semester but that if the university decides to continue distance learning they may look at the possibility of breaking the lease.
For the time being though, they will continue paying, just in case the state begins to reopen and their daughter ends up moving back.
“We don’t want to give it up because she will need it if they go back,” Henry said. “So we’re just going to try to keep paying the rent.”