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How BYU-Idaho students are handling their housing contract dilemmas

Brigham Young University-Idaho students find themselves stuck with mixed messages as the school wants them to stay home, but they can not get out of housing contracts. | Eric Grossarth,
REXBURG — Brigham Young University-Idaho closed campus, courses are moving online and students are going home. One thing remaining for many students is rent payments due to their existing housing contracts.
“I would rather do my classes at home,” said Madison Emett, a BYU-Idaho student from Utah locked in a spring housing contract. “They’re not letting people cancel their contracts and there is going to be people traveling back to Rexburg even though the school…told students not to.”
BYU-Idaho is following Gov. Brad Little’s 21-day statewide stay-home order due to the coronavirus. An email from the university advised the campus community to “cease all non-essential travel” and told students currently living away from Rexburg to not return. Despite the requests, students like Emett remain stuck in their apartment contracts.
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Emett lives at Birch Plaza and her family pointed out to her manager that her contract said she could cancel with an “unforeseeable and unexpected catastrophic event without penalty or further obligation.” Management apparently did not agree that the COVID-19 pandemic fell into the category, they said.
“All they said is that unless you actually have the coronavirus, that doesn’t apply to you,” Emett said.
The only way she reportedly can get out of the contract is by paying 60% of her contract plus the deposit – roughly $600 to $700. The complex also offered to move the contract to another semester by paying 35% of the dues. If the contract had been canceled 60 days prior to the start of the semester, she would have only needed to pay $75, according to Emett.
Birch Plaza is a member of Rexburg Housing, the owner of many student apartment complexes that declined to speak to about the situation.
Nathan Luke, a student from Washington, said over the past several days, he’s attempted to help others with their contracts. He’s called complexes to understand what they are doing but said most did not return his messages.
“We are just asking that apartments (that) hurt with us in this worldwide crisis not take advantage of us because of it,” Luke said. “It’s frustrating to hear what these complexes are requiring of students, given everything that’s going on.”
With students struggling to find ways out of their contracts, BYU-Idaho’s Housing & Student Living Office said they are not directing complexes and managers what to do with spring contracts, according to an email sent to a BYU-I student.
“It will be up to them to decide what to do,” the email read. “We encourage you to please get in contact with your manager to work on solutions with them.”
BYU-Idaho will keep its 850-bed housing complex Centre Square and married student complex University Village open so residents can continue living there, according to BYU-Idaho spokesman Brett Crandall. Other colleges in Idaho, including the University of Idaho in Moscow and Idaho State University in Pocatello, are also keeping their on-campus student housing open for residents living there.
Last week Boise State urged the students living in “on-campus dormitory-style housing to relocate if at all possible” while closing all facilities to the general public. According to the Idaho Statesman, it affects approximately 2,375 students encouraged to leave by Thursday.
The spread of COVID-19 and the stay-home order also impacts married students. Anna and Daniel Reed made plans to move to Rexburg for Daniel’s last semester this spring where they would live in community housing. Things have now changed.
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“It’s really an inconvenience because of that,” Anna Reed said. “We have a place … and we would just need to go for those three months for his last semester but we really don’t need to now that they are doing it remotely and now that (BYU-Idaho) does’t want us to go.”
The apartment complex told the Reeds their “contract is a contract” and they aren’t letting anyone break it. Reed said their only way out is by selling the lease to someone else but everyone is trying to do that, making it nearly impossible.
“It has been brought up they still need to make money and we did sign a contract with them,” Reed said. “So whatever they can work out with the students would be great.”
Rexburg attorney Sean Bartholick of Rigby Andrus & Rigby Law said there are steps students can take and he’s advising some of their legal options.
“The first step before they even start looking at pulling out of the contract is just talk to a human being with your apartment complex,” Bartholick said. “Talk to a manager, talk to someone, because somewhere down the chain there’s another human on the other end that you can explain what’s going on.”
When that doesn’t work, he recommends looking at your contract to find anything that shows what happens if someone breaches it. Occasionally there are certain items listed, like extreme illness or unforeseen catastrophic events, that will terminate the contract without being a breach of either party.
“Given both the national and now state level declarations, it’s fairly logical that this falls into that category,” Bartholick said. “You can make the argument to the complex that this is specifically what’s listed in my contract and gives me the right to get out of this.”
If that fails, Bartholick says then it may be time to look for legal help. When the cost for legal help is less than the lease payments, it may be worth having an attorney work as an advocate for you.
“If you are talking to your complex and they are saying that’s too bad, seek legal counsel,” Barhtolick said. “Get somebody to look at your contract … because these complexes bet on the fact that you haven’t read the contract and you’ll just give up if they keep saying no.”
While many are struggling to get out of their contracts, student Luke Crockett said his management company, Best Nest, allowed residents out of their contracts with no penalty and even offered incentives, such as $150 off rent for those returning in future semesters.
Crockett said he decided to move the contract over a semester, qualifying him for the incentive.
“Personally I feel super blessed,” Crockett said. “Greenbrier (the name of the complex) not only won over my loyalty for them, but I don’t think I will go over to another complex ever again. I liked them before but now they’ve shown me that they actually do care about the tenants.”

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