Off-campus residents in UCF-affiliated apartment complexes said they feel at mercy to the complex to provide financial relief during the COVID-19 outbreak.
Apartment complexes such as Knights Circle, Plaza on University, Arden Villas, Orion on Orpington, Mercury 3100 and American Campus Communities were called out on Twitter by Florida Rep. Carlos Guillermo Smith.
On Saturday, Smith tweeted asking why they're taking advantage of students by refusing to let them out of their leases early due to COVID-19.
COVID-19 has disrupted the daily routines of UCF students since campus shut down, classes moved online and dorms were evacuated. As a result, UCF’s Board of Trustees approved housing refunds to on-campus residents on Thursday.
However, students living in off-campus apartments said they feel overlooked during this difficult time. In a phone interview with NSM Today, Smith said that he noticed in the replies of his tweet that a number of students in Orlando at a variety of apartment complexes said they were also struggling with rent and weren't able to break their leases due to COVID-19.
Junior character animation major Nicole Ramos said it's going to be difficult to afford rent for an apartment that she is not staying in. She decided to move back home when classes were moved online, but said she still has a leasing contract until July at Plaza on University. She said she called the complex to find a way out of the lease, but they told her that subleasing was her only option.
“It was frustrating to hear and kind of insulting because they moved all classes online," Ramos said. "Nobody is going to be looking to move - especially in the middle of a pandemic."
Plaza on University is a privately owned property, along with The Village on Science Drive. Both are owned by American Campus Communities. According to the American Campus Communities COVID-19 Statement, they will not be offering lease terminations or refunds to their apartment communities. However, they are temporarily waiving all online payment fees, late fees and financial-related eviction proceedings.
"We have also formed a COVID-19 Resident Hardship Program and have appointed a task-force to qualify and work with residents and families who endure financial hardship on a case-by-case basis,” the statement said.
On Monday, Interim President Thad Seymour sent a letter, obtained by NSM Today, to off-campus housing managers asking them to work with students on a case-by-case basis regarding leases.
"Please consider granting early lease terminations and flexibility with rent payment plans, security deposits and guarantees," Seymour stated in the letter.
Additionally, on Wednesday, Rep. Anna V. Eskamani posted on Twitter that District 47's office sent a letter to 10 different UCF off-campus apartment complexes encouraging them to allow students out of their leases early due to COVID-19.
The ten companies we have sent letters via email & USPS include: @ardenvillas, @PlazaOnUniv, @LiveMercury3100, @OrionatUCF, @KnightsCircle, @americancampus, @ScienceDriveUCF, @PointeAtCentral, @StationAlafaya, and @VergeOrlando. If we are missing one, please let me know. 2/— Rep. Anna V. Eskamani 🔨 (@AnnaForFlorida) April 1, 2020
"I ask that you allow students impacted by COVID19 to terminate their leases immediately," the letter said.
The letter also stated that businesses have more access than studens to federal relief programs to make up for money lost by lease terminations.
Ramos said not being able to get out of her lease was extremely stressful because she doesn't have a job and is a few thousand dollars in debt, so she can't afford to pay rent for four more months.
“People are losing their jobs and it is difficult to find a new job because no one is hiring. Even if I could find a new job, I couldn’t get out of the house because my family is high risk,” Ramos said.
Senior health service administration major Amanda Shrager lives at The Lofts. She said that subleasing was the only option for her and it's hard to manage rent during this time.
“They don’t even try to help you," Shrager said. "They just say you have to find someone [to sublease], good luck, bye.”
UCF parent Linda Rozo said her daughter is a freshman who lost her job at UCF. She said her daughter has no income, no amenities and still has to find a way to pay $4,000 in rent for living at Knights Circle.
“We have a home business, so basically when everything is shut down, we’re shut down," Rozo said. "So there’s no income coming in for us either, and yet we are still responsible for these payments."
Rozo said this is now an expense that falls onto the parents.
“They’re expecting parents to hold down their own mortgages or rent plus the rent of their child," Rozo said.
Junior aerospace engineering major Janae Moses-Soto still pays rent because Knights Circle is not offering lease terminations.
Moses-Soto said she was laid off from her job at UCF and decided to go home for her safety. She said her father is the guarantor on her lease, but he lost his job as well.
“I think it is unfair because I won’t be living there for a couple months," Moses-Soto said. "I know I have a contract obligation, but this is a time of emergency."
Smith told NSM Today that UCF tried to encourage Knights Circle, which is UCF-affiliated, to let students out of their leases early and have some flexibility during COVID-19, but he said they refused.
“This is the perfect example of why we have to pass laws to reign in predatory corporations from predatory practices," Smith said. "They are like vultures."
He believes the solution needs to be bold and start with corporations letting students out of leases early without penalty. He said Governor Ron DeSantis should take executive action and possibly pass a statewide law proposing that student tenants should have flexibility to break their leases early due to a state-of-emergency.
"You don't have to exploit a legal loophole in order to do the right thing,” Smith said.
Managers from apartment complexes such as Plaza on University, Knights Circle, The Marquee and The Lofts were unable to comment.
“Not every student can go back home to their parents and not every student needs to get out of their lease," Smith said. "But there is a tremendous amount that do and they need protection and flexibility to get out of their leases early due to COVID-19."
An earlier version of this article stated that all 10 communities District 47's office sent a letter to are owned by American Campus Communities. Only Plaza on University and The Village on Science Drive are owned by AAC.