Students experience diverse struggles of apartment leases due to COVID-19

Amarillo junior Izabella King and Katy senior Clarke Andrews work in the URSA leasing office. During the pandemic, they have had to deal with changes in protocol but it has become the new normal for them. Emileé Edwards | Photographer

By Megan Lockhart | Reporter

Through last spring’s semester and into the fall, students experienced challenges regarding off-campus apartment leases due to COVID-19 as many were forced to leave for home while continuing to pay rent.

Houston alumna Amber Lee Royal graduated in the spring amid the most critical months of COVID-19 when the City of Waco enacted the shelter-in-place order and the university sent students home. Royal recalls experiencing the full struggle of apartment lease issues at URSA.

“The main struggle that I faced was no discounted rent when I was stuck quarantined at home and could not even go back to the apartment that I was paying for,” Royal said.

After spring break, Royal returned to her apartment in Waco to find that her rent was still priced the same despite all amenities at the apartment complex no longer being offered.

“All the amenities were closed including the study areas, which is something that I used almost daily. That was really frustrating, and so was the pool and the gym and our hammock area,” Royal said. “All of it was closed, and we still had to pay our whole amount, which was actually kind of averting to me.”

In addition to these circumstances, Royal found herself stranded without maintenance during her time in Waco.

“They announced that maintenance wasn’t happening either,” Royal said. “Unless your apartment caught on fire or flooded they were not going to service you, so little things you needed help with — like if your garbage disposal was jammed — they weren’t going to come help.”

Royal recalled the struggles of the changes that incurred due to quarantine, most importantly her lease price.

“Another struggle was actually moving out of the apartment because I had to move out during quarantine, and it was difficult to juggle all my roommate’s schedules,” Royal said.

URSA is owned by Preferred Apartment Communities. For the fall semester, URSA has since reopened “amenity spaces responsibly and in accordance with state and local mandates or restrictions,” per its website.

“PAC is working to make it easier for our residents to stay home during this time,” the website said. “To that end, we’ve eliminated the convenience fee for making rent payments on our resident portals.”

Despite some uncomfortable circumstances, not all students shared in Royal’s opinions.

Pittsburgh, Pa., junior Colin McLaughlin recalls that he preferred his time in Waco living at U Pointe during the quarantine over returning home because it allowed him to focus better on his classwork while also making use of the apartment he paid for.

“I didn’t go home since I knew I’d be more productive here. The lease was not affected by COVID-19, but I renewed it last year so I wasn’t surprised,“ McLaughlin said.

Regarding lease agreements, U Pointe, along with many other off-campus living, remains strict on their lease agreements. However, apartments such as U Pointe have stated that they are willing to give grace to those who have been financially affected by COVID-19.

“We are not offering lease terminations and refunds at private off-campus apartment communities. We will be temporarily waiving all late fees and financial-related eviction proceedings and we will work with residents and families who endure financial hardship on a case by case basis,” a statement released by American Campus Communities, owner of U Pointe, on March 31 said.

Although many students experienced similar situations regarding lease battles amid COVID-19, each had different perspectives.

“It would have been nice for my apartment to reduce the rent since the amenities were closed but I think it’s no different from Baylor raising their tuition this year. I was a fan of their response, though,” McLaughlin said. “U Pointe shut down the pool and common area when it was bad. Now the pool’s open at a limited capacity, and they haven’t hosted any events out there like they used to.”