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UC Berkeley students stuck in leases despite being forced out of campus

Bay Area

BERKELEY, Calif. (KRON) — Forced out of their college campuses but still stuck in their apartment leases. That’s the predicament many students are finding themselves in right now.

Students living on campus received refunds for their housing, but many of those living off campus have been left in the lurch paying rent for an empty apartment. One U.C. Berkeley student tells KRON4 he has yet to step foot in his new apartment and the bill is coming his way.

“Once this starts I will just be accumulating debt,” Edward Hwang said.

Hwang signed a lease for an apartment at Stonefire Berkeley before the pandemic – in November of last year.

Hwang is a rising senior at U.C. Berkeley. He’s supposed to move in his new apartment on August 1 but when the campus announced its closure in the spring, he notified property management.

“I did notify them back in April of this year that I wanted to terminate it but since then there hasn’t been any successful negotiations and they constantly said I’m still liable for this lease,” Hwang said.

Hwang says his lease agreement says he is responsible for six months rent to terminate the lease.

“I would most likely forced to declare bankruptcy because I’m just a student coming out of college there’s no possible way I alone would be able to pay $30,000 to terminate a lease that hasn’t even started yet,” he said.

Hwang says he knows many other students in the same predicament and are desperately seeking out legal advice.

We spoke to attorney Ara Jabagchourian.

“The argument that’s going to have to be raised is the frustration of purpose,” Jabagchourian said.

“So if somebody comes in and they’re being forced to pay six months and they don’t pay the six months, obviously they’re going to be sued by the landlord and the defense has got to be look judge I was here, I came here for college,” Jabagchourian said. “College said sorry no on campus classes everything is being done by zoom, my purpose of going to that apartment was solely going to college.”

Back in April – U.C. Berkeley sent an update notifying students living off campus to pay close attention to the terms of their lease, warning most off-campus leases will not provide refunds.

“What we’re seeing here today is an unfortunate consequence of the pandemic and its effect on our economy,” Joshua Howard said.

Howard is executive vice president of local government affairs with California Apartment Association.

“Rental housing providers have significant rental obligations, mortgages, property taxes, payroll, their own staff,” Howard said. “When rent is not received it jeopardizes the owner’s ability to fulfil their obligation.”>

Howard is calling on the state and federal government to prioritize rent relief for rental housing providers.

And in Hwang’s case…

“We would really encourage the housing provider and the landlord to try to find a way to work with that student,” Howard said. “Work with all tenants because at the end of the day, everyone is affected by this pandemic.”

For now, Hwang is staying with his parents in Santa Clara, hoping there will be a resolution with his lease.

We reached out to Stonefire and its parent owner Landmark Properties for comment but have not yet heard back.

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