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