COLLEGE STATION, Texas (KXAN) — Starting college is an exciting time for every graduating high school senior, but COVID-19 has led to a lot of uncertainty about the traditional experience.
The new normal has had an extremely negative impact on an Austin family. Their daughter missed out on a traditional college campus tour of Texas A&M University in College Station.
The trip was supposed to happen around spring break, but businesses, schools and university campuses were closing across the country due to coronavirus concerns. Despite the unknown, their family wanted to continue moving forward making plans — remotely — for her freshman year in the fall of 2020.
Part of the process involved finding a place to live. The off-campus student apartments the family was considering were off-limits for in-person tours.
With housing options filling up fast, the family made the decision to go ahead and secure an apartment for their daughter without seeing it in person. They signed an 11-month lease for two rooms at The Standard at College Station. The move-in date was set for Aug. 21.
Over the course of the next two weeks as daily lives started to change drastically, the family said they started experiencing severe economic losses. It was clear as they started budgeting and saving for the basics — college expenses coming down the pike were not going to be feasible.
“We are trying to save our resources in this time of economic uncertainty for basic vital needs such as food,” the mom told KXAN.
She said they were faced with no other choice but to terminate the lease early, less than two weeks after it was signed, because they were not going to be able to make payments starting in August.
She shared multiple emails from the resident services manager at The Standard at College State who said the lease they signed gave the family two options:
- Find someone to sublet and take over the lease
- Pay the early termination fee of $12,060 (a total of 6 months rent)
She tried to explain the difficult situation to apartment management, which included trying to negotiate a lower termination fee, but said the apartment complex, which is owned by Landmark Properties, did not budge.
After spending a couple of unsuccessful days trying to find someone online to take over the lease, the family decided to pay the $12,060, knowing it would be tough to find anyone willing to make a financial commitment in these uncertain times.
Their daughter will no longer be attending Texas A&M in the fall, and is now trying to figure out a plan B with school and living at home.
There’s no doubt other families are finding themselves in the same boat.
KXAN reached out to Landmark Properties, which sent a statement that reads in part:
“When it comes to early termination, our lease agreement clearly outlines a resident’s options. All leaseholders have the option to reassign their lease to another person. If they decide not to reassign their lease agreement, they also have the option to pay an early termination fee, which is based on each resident’s specific monthly installment.
We never want to see a resident terminate their lease agreement early, but we understand these decisions are often made due to extenuating circumstances. That is why we provide early termination options for our leaseholders, and we are here to help them explore and choose the option that works best for them.
Lease agreements and the associated monthly installments are critical for our housing communities. As a privately owned and operated housing provider, we rely solely on monthly installments from our leaseholders to meet our financial obligations, including operational overhead costs necessary for us to serve residents and to support payroll for our staff.”
Austin real estate and business attorney Anthony Ciccone, who also has a son at Texas A&M, sympathizes with the family.
“They only signed that lease two weeks ago, and now they are going to get tagged for a $12,000 bill — it doesn’t seem right,” said Ciccone.
He wants to remind parents, and all renters, that if you sign a lease you’re likely stuck with the lease. His own son came to him a few days ago saying he found a great place in College Station and wanted advice on whether to commit. Ciccone’s advice was to wait until July or August to make a decision.
When it comes to apartment complexes and landlords, Ciccone said they’re scrambling as well trying to figure out what to do.
“I think they are just as panicked as everybody else,”said Ciccone. “They don’t know if they will have tenants in the fall, they still have all of their operating and carrying costs, they still have to pay taxes and insurance and maintenance even if nobody’s there.”
For any renters trying to terminate a lease or negotiate different terms than what are in the contract, Ciccone said the first step should be to pick up the phone and have a real conversation with the landlord, versus trying to do it over email.