No Answers for Students Stuck in Leases This Year

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By David M. Greenwald

Students who have taken out leases in the city of Davis still will not have any recourse—that is the upshot of a joint statement by the city and university that came out late last week.

The issue was first raised by students during a late July city council meeting.  Elizabeth Cho, a Vanguard intern, noted, “Students everywhere are struggling to get out of their lease contracts due to the COVID-19 pandemic.”

She added that “they can no longer afford to pay for an apartment, especially if they are not going to be living there. Most, if not all, schools have transferred their fall semesters and quarters online, and the practical (and cheapest) solution for students would be to just stay home.”

But that will be a problem for students if they cannot get out of leases.

Ironically, the problem is reversed from previous years.  Students, with housing in short supply, tend to sign up early to secure housing for the upcoming academic year—and this year, that has worked against them.

As the letter from the university and city points out, “In March 2020, COVID-19 upended our shared UC Davis and City of Davis community, and the personal plans for thousands of people around us. Within a few days, UC Davis and the City of Davis restructured our collaboration and placed emergency services, pandemic controls, and housing coordination as the highest priorities for immediate action.”

On-campus housing is not a problem: “For students with UC Davis housing contracts, maximum flexibility has been provided, with full refunds, contract cancellations and deadline extensions to accommodate changing circumstances.”

But they offer no solution.

Writes the city and university: “Recognizing the crisis faced by many in private housing (on and off-campus), our discussions have included the issues of rent relief, basic needs support, homelessness resources, eviction moratoriums, and lease cancellations. With hard work and creativity, we have made progress on some housing issues, but have not found a solution for the key issue of lease cancellations that remains pressing for many students.”

Even on-campus housing that is secured through public-private rental complexes has proven problematic—such as the Sol apartments at West Village.

They note: “For these P3 complexes, we have explored whether UC Davis could compel P3 landlords to allow lease cancellations or rent relief. At this time we have found no avenue for successfully providing such lease modifications for on-campus housing that is operated by P3 landlords.”

The city of Davis has explored options about providing rent relief or lease cancellations, but they too “have found no possible solutions that would provide such relief while remaining consistent with state law.”

Some have been critical that the city has not formally agendized the item and had a public discussion on the matter.

Back in July, students pointed to an ordinance adopted by the City of Berkeley, that states that students can terminate leases early “without penalty.”

The city also has reviewed a resolution adopted by Solano County, that allows tenants to terminate leases early for COVID-19-related reasons “without penalty.”

However, the city believes that these actions have been “overstated” in the media.

These actions “only prevent landlords from assessing a penalty on tenants in addition to the damages landlords are allowed to collect from tenants under state law.”

The city points out, “State law allows landlords to collect lost rent payments from tenants as long as the landlord attempts to re-lease the unit. If a landlord cannot find a new tenant to take a unit, these damages may be substantial.”

Nor can cities and counties adopt regulations that conflict with current state law.

Writes the city: “[N]either Berkeley’s nor Solano County’s actions would allow students to terminate leases without incurring financial responsibility for lost rent revenue, which is usually the bulk of a tenant’s damages. The City and University are limited by state law in terms of interfering with the rights of landlords or tenants.”

UC Davis is working to be responsive to students who are experiencing hardship as a result of the pandemic, including initiatives to provide financial and support services such as:

  • Repackaging Financial Aid Offers: With remote learning extended into the fall quarter and the associated changes to housing status for students, Financial Aid and Scholarships is reallocating University Grant funds to enhance aid to eligible students in the following ways: a) the eligibility date was extended resulting in approximately 800 additional students now having access to University Grant funds; and b) Students who were initially awarded the University Grant as part of their financial aid package may receive an increase in grant funding. The award amounts will vary based on need.
  • Off-Campus Housing Help Desk: The Division of Student Affairs is exploring the creation of a help desk to support students and families in understanding their options, developing budgets and seeking resolution to a range of challenges they are now facing given the pandemic and the impact to off-campus housing arrangements.
  • In partnership with the ASUCD, the Division of Student Affairs is expanding the legal resources available through the existing ASUCD lawyer consultation program, which will result in longer consultation sessions and evening hours to accommodate the increased demand. In addition, a Zoom webinar is being planned to increase awareness of the most common challenges/questions students are experiencing.

The statement concludes: “Whether your lease is with on-campus or off-campus rental housing, we strongly encourage tenants to reach out to their landlord to discuss options. We are hearing that some local landlords are working with tenants on a case-by-case basis to help if at all possible. Throughout this year, we will continue to work for ongoing solutions to these housing needs.”

—David M. Greenwald reporting


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About The Author

David Greenwald is the founder, editor, and executive director of the Davis Vanguard. He founded the Vanguard in 2006. David Greenwald moved to Davis in 1996 to attend Graduate School at UC Davis in Political Science. He lives in South Davis with his wife Cecilia Escamilla Greenwald and three children.

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34 thoughts on “No Answers for Students Stuck in Leases This Year”

  1. Ron Glick

    What about declaring bankruptcy? It is the ultimate recourse for the indebted. Might not work for all but maybe for some. I’m not a lawyer so I don’t know the answer but that it never gets mentioned is possibly because of cultural biases rather than law.

      1. Bill Marshall

        In the 70’s, a right of passage, for many recently graduated law students, was to file bankruptcy to erase their student and other debt… which goes to why, now, under the federal student loan program, that does not erase student loan debt…

        On another note, those unable to get out of leases are exactly where they would be without the pandemic… they’re still paying the same… they still have the option to occupy their rented units, and do the on-line thing from the units that they entered into a contract for… that they choose not to occupy the units they contracted for, should not be the problem of the landlord, who may choose to find another renter, and release them from the contract… frankly (tho’ I’m not), a very charitable thing to do…

        1. David Greenwald Post author

          “On another note, those unable to get out of leases are exactly where they would be without the pandemic… ”

          That’s not exactly true. They are losing the trade off. During normal times, they trade high costs of housing and expenses for high quality education. In this case, they would have the high costs without getting the high-quality education. So it’s a lose-lose proposition.

        2. Bill Marshall

          Well, the trade off should perhaps be resolved by lower tuition or fees?  Why leases?  No loss of real ‘value’, there… they entered into a contract for housing… it is available…

          You take out a loan, to buy a car… you decide not to pay for full comprehensive auto insurance… the day after you drive the new car off the lot, some unknown person drives into your new car, totalling it… the loan company should absorb the loss, and forgive your auto loan?

          1. David Greenwald Post author

            There are some differences there. For instance, a housing lease is area specific, and car can go anywhere. BTW, car purchases come with a returnable grace period. I don’t have the answer but there are exigent circumstances that would seem to change the normal calculations.

        3. Eric Gelber

          They are losing the trade off. During normal times, they trade high costs of housing and expenses for high quality education. In this case, they would have the high costs without getting the high-quality education.

          There’s no trade off (quid pro quo) involving the landlord beyond the landlord/tenant relationship. If someone moves to Davis for a job and is then laid off, that doesn’t affect the tenant’s lease obligations. The situation with on-campus, university-operated housing is a different matter. That’s housing specifically for purposes of receiving an education.

        4. Keith Olsen

          BTW, car purchases come with a returnable grace period.

          What, three days?  Not several months as is the case with the leases.

          Bill is completely on target here.  If there’s any entity that should be lowering the costs it should be UCD.

        5. Alan Miller

          During normal times, they trade high costs of housing and expenses for high quality education.

          During normal times, I hug my friends and family, work in an office, eat at restaurants, go inside stores, and travel.

      2. Richard McCann

        Bill M

        For many the trade off is that many (most?) may not be even enrolling for the fall quarter due to the decline in instructional quality. Our son would have skipped this quarter at another college if he wasn’t just 2 quarters from graduation. For those students, there is no offsetting tradeoff–they are paying rent for housing that they are not using (assuming they are staying at their parents’ now.)

        Lowering tuition is similar to cutting the payroll tax as a means of relief–it assumes that the recipient is still attending/employed, which may not be the case.

        1. Keith Olsen

          And keep in mind not all landlords are large apartment owners and rich.  Some are using the rental income in order to make their mortgage payments.

        2. Alan Miller

          And keep in mind not all landlords are large apartment owners and rich.

          Are you saying the rich ones should pay up? 😉

           Some are using the rental income in order to make their mortgage payments.

          And no . . . if you got stuff, you rich! 😉

        3. Keith Olsen

          I know Alan, that’s the attitude these days.  People don’t want to be held responsible for their actions and decisions.  Once you take a loan or sign on the dotted line for a lease or a contract you are agreeing to the terms.

        4. David Greenwald Post author

          Keith – that’s incredibly callous, it’s not like they drank too much, got into a vehicle and crashed it.  They signed a lease that they were forced to sign in January or February long before the idea entered anyone’s mind that school would be shutdown.

        5. Keith Olsen

          Keith – that’s incredibly callous,

          It’s incredibly callous to expect someone to be held to the terms of a contract that they willingly signed?

          Have you even considered the rental unit owner and their costs?

          1. David Greenwald Post author

            No, but that’s not what you did. Had you simply said, it’s an unfortunate situation, both sides are in a tough spot here with the unanticipated impact of COVID, unfortunately, there is no remedy. I would have no problem with that view.

            But that’s not what you did.

            You then went further and actually inpugned the motivations of those seeking redress for a clear hardship that really was not of their own doing.

            Saying this: “People don’t want to be held responsible for their actions and decisions. Once you take a loan or sign on the dotted line for a lease or a contract you are agreeing to the terms.”

            That’s callous. There’s no empathy there. It’s just a big middle finger to them.

        6. Alan Miller

          that’s incredibly callous, it’s not like they drank too much, got into a vehicle and crashed it.  They signed a lease that they were forced to sign in January or February long before the idea entered anyone’s mind that school would be shutdown.

          DG, I take it you’re not much into the integrity of contract law or agreements.  That seems callous to me — “we agree to this, unless . . . something happens and I don’t want to anymore”.  A giant plastic yellow duck full of money is supposed to descend from the heavens whenever something goes wrong and bail people out?  Well, as that’s what happening all around us, so I guess I shouldn’t be surprised.

          1. David Greenwald Post author

            First of all you seem to misunderstand my point – not surprising. My point was specific to Keith’s lack of empathy. But second, and more fundamentally, it find it telling that the big giant plastic duck full of money applies unidirectionally to benefit the landlord and harm the student. You’ve not neutrally weighed in here – you’ve sided with one entity. As Bill points out – it’s all or nothing as well. No compromise. No workaround. And then you joined in Keith in the denigration of people looking for a solution. That’s why I spoke up. I say that believing there probably isn’t a remedy within the law, but I do so with an understanding that it’s an unfortunate situation that will cause people harm.

        7. Keith Olsen

          “People don’t want to be held responsible for their actions and decisions. Once you take a loan or sign on the dotted line for a lease or a contract you are agreeing to the terms.”

          Saying that someone who agrees to the terms of a contract when they sign on the dotted line is now considered callous?  Yes you should be held responsible for taking out a loan or signing a lease.  Do you not agree?

          1. David Greenwald Post author

            I think your comment lacked empathy and that’s what I called out. I have nothing else to say.

          2. Don Shor

            Yes you should be held responsible for taking out a loan or signing a lease. Do you not agree?

            If only that were universally true. Walking away from loans (renegotiating, delaying payments, or simply going bankrupt and paying creditors pennies on the dollar) is a common practice for wealthy people and corporations.
            The problem here is that the tenants are not organized and have little leverage. If they collectively asserted that they would refuse to pay without some concession by some landlords, they might get some deals. Not every landlord is in a position to make a deal, but some might. I have no idea if a council member who is respected on both sides of this issue could broker some meetings and proffer solutions, but it wouldn’t hurt to try.

  2. Ron Glick

    “Who would declare bankruptcy under this scenario?”

    Someone who couldn’t otherwise get out of a lease. If you are a student with little or no income, maybe some college debt and a giant future liability of a contract you can’t afford bankruptcy might offer you a way out of your lease.

  3. Alan Miller

    This was the only likely outcome; I didn’t see how the city could force landlords to break lease contracts on private complexes.  This sucks, but lasts one year, not four.  There is some cost to landlords to pursue legal action against tenants to collect.  If that could be determined roughly, that would be a negotiating point.  If the cost would be $2400 for the landlord, perhaps offer $200/month less to the landlord so they otherwise get to keep a tenant.  Smart landlords would go for this in a time of infinite-percent occupancy rates.

    Wondering how much pressure the owners of large, private complexes will put on UCD to open up fully next fall, when they have few signing leases, should the Covid-19 thing drag on.  Hopefully they won’t give in and cause a surge, like when we re-opened businesses too early and ended up hurting people and businesses when it didn’t go well.

     

    1. Bill Marshall

      There is some cost to landlords to pursue legal action against tenants to collect.  If that could be determined roughly, that would be a negotiating point.  If the cost would be $2400 for the landlord, perhaps offer $200/month less to the landlord so they otherwise get to keep a tenant.  Smart landlords would go for this in a time of infinite-percent occupancy rates.

      “Shared pain”… if I was a landlord, with student tenants (and I was at one point), that makes a whole lot of sense (that’s why it probably isn’t a happening thing, but GREAT suggestion!)… so far, has only been one extreme or the other…

      And as some have pointed out, the quality of education is diminished… so, assume that applies to UCD, and DJUSD, perhaps as well… so perhaps, like the landlord/tenant thing, the pain is to be shared… perhaps UCD and DJUSD teachers, administrators, and staff should voluntarily forgo some portion of their compensation in the spirit of sharing the collective ‘pain’… nah… would never happen… when the going gets tough, the tough keep what they have… antithesis of what we proclaim as “community”…

      1. Alan Miller

        Downtown, many tenants are getting some free months, or about 1/2 price, or shared-revenue agreements.  Landlords know they aren’t going to be able to fill units, so they are willing to bargain.  Some leeway for students as well if landlords think they’ll be in court for years – they’d rather make a deal.  Probably can’t get half-price, but whatever the landlord thinks it’s worth to them — worth a try, better than being in court or paying for unit you don’t use.

  4. Bill Marshall

    You then went further and actually inpugned the motivations of those seeking redress for a clear hardship that really was not of their own doing.

    Redress… tied to a ”wrong or grievance”?    how did landlords wrong or grieve student renters (note that you don’t even mention non-students whose situation changed by the pandemic… guess they need no ‘relief’)

    Landlords… was the pandemic of their doing?  I’d argue that forcing vacation of signed leases due to the pandemic, and reactions to it, UCD and elsewhere, would be “a clear hardship that really was not of their own doing.”  Guess you don’t see that…

    So much for ‘collaboration’…

    Alan’s  10:48 post is reasonable… your apparent ‘solutions’ are at best, quixotic

    1. David Greenwald Post author

      I have not proposed any solutions.

      My point to Keith and Alan was that the pandemic was no one’s doing, but simply stating that the students made their choice, now live with it, imposes the burden solely on them.

  5. Alan Miller

    My point to Keith and Alan was that the pandemic was no one’s doing, but simply stating that the students made their choice, now live with it, imposes the burden solely on them.

    There is no “imposing”.  This pandemic has not struck people equally in any way.  Some happened to be in a place where their businesses flourished; the pandemic has hit completely unequally based on nothing anyone could have planned for – students with leases got a tough break.

    First of all you seem to misunderstand my point – not surprising.

    It is not surprising, but probably not for the reason you think.

    My point was specific to Keith’s lack of empathy.

    What “lack of empathy”?  More importantly, of what importance is any one person’s perceived empathy or lack of perceived empathy?  Empathy in itself won’t change anyone’s situation.  And how does one have ’empathy’ for thousands, anyway?  That’s not real empathy, it’s just feeling bad.  I have empathy for people I know, some empathy for those in my orbit.  People who take on the “empathy” of thousands are burndened the weight of the world.  Human beings do not have such capacity – why instant, worldwide information is so harmful to the species.

    it find it telling that the big giant plastic duck full of money applies unidirectionally to benefit the landlord and harm the student.

    The contract is for housing – there is no imposed benefit/harm to one or the other, any more than some friends near Santa Cruz lost their homes in the fires, while others did not.  Students plans were also changed by an unseen/unexpected force, and they had housing – it’s not the landlord’s doing.  If someone hands me relief, of course I’ll take it, but my reaction to a bad situation would never be to try to negate a contract through government legislation after the fact.  That attitude is an offshoot of a very recent culture, ‘everyone gets a trophy’ may be a contributor.

    You’ve not neutrally weighed in here – you’ve sided with one entity.

    No one is siding.  The contracts already existed – they are what they are – contracts.  If the landlords got the short end of an unforeseen catastrophe, I’d be saying the same thing.

    No compromise. No workaround.

    That is between the parties involved, it’s not my business, nor is it the city’s.

    And then you joined in Keith in the denigration of people looking for a solution.

    What denigration?  Denigration is “the action of unfairly criticizing someone or something.”  Pointing out the reality of the situation, and not actively calling on the city to bail thousands of students out of leases is “denigrating” them?  Are you dry shaving me?

    I have not proposed any solutions.

    And ironically, I have.  I suggested an approach students might take to try to work something out with their landlord that might at least save them a portion of their money.  Some might call that empathetic.

    My point to Keith and Alan was that the pandemic was no one’s doing,

    The handling of the initial outbreak by the communist Chinese government may have had a part .  The handling since by numerous other ‘leaders’, chief among them our President, hasn’t helped much.  Unless by ‘doing’ you mean no one actually created it in a lab – and some might even dispute that.

    but simply stating that the students made their choice, now live with it, imposes the burden solely on them.

    No one said to ‘impose a burden’ upon the students.  Just like those who’s houses burned, circumstances brought lousy luck.  It isn’t ‘live with it’, it’s just ‘what is’.  What is so shocking to the way I, and probably KO, view the world, is that your solution is a government bailout to all hard luck, and if you don’t support that solution, one is labeled (judged) by the Davis Vanguard as “uncaring” and, once again (wait for it:), “anti-student”.

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