College Park’s off campus apartments are nearly empty — so why are they charging rent?

Students move out of Hagerstown Hall on March 13, 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic. (Eric Harkleroad/The Diamondback)

Views expressed in opinion columns are the author’s own.

Among the many crises brought on by COVID-19, housing in College Park is particularly multifaceted. Usually a bustling hub of activity, this city now feels like a ghost town. Students living in university-owned housing have been long gone from campus, forced off by haphazard and confusing university edicts.

But what about those, myself included, who chose to live off campus in privately-owned apartment complexes? Many students who live in Terrapin Row, The Varsity, the View and other buildings have returned home to quarantine with their families. While some students remain in their units, many apartments remain empty.

The companies which run these properties owe it to their tenants to relinquish rent for the next month, if not until the end of students’ leases. Realistically, some of these students will remain home, forgoing their summer housing if potential jobs, internships and research opportunities have been canceled due to the coronavirus. This means that at least three months of rent will be going to waste.

Leases at these complexes are usually 11 month long contracts, meaning that students move in during August and move out in July. The university announced that following March 16, students should prepare for online learning and move out of their dorms with any essential items. Then, the university shifted to online learning for the remainder of the semester and permanently closed all dorms. Many students living in these privately managed buildings left for spring break and are now in a pickle. It’s a choice between being with their families at home, or being potentially alone in their apartment because they’re still paying rent.

Along with empty rooms, common spaces, study rooms, gyms and other amenities in Terrapin Row, The Varsity and other complexes have been shuttered for weeks. Through their leases, students are shelling out upwards of a thousand dollars each month to not only live in these buildings, but also access their amenities. They’re not just paying for their apartments: they’re paying for the upkeep of outdoor spaces, gyms and study spaces. It doesn’t make sense to continue to require students to pay the full amount of their lease if they aren’t getting their money’s worth.

Expecting students to continue to pay rent for an empty apartment is ridiculous. Pinnacle Campus Living, Greystar Management and the Scion Group — which manage Terrapin Row, The Varsity and the View, respectively — should have the means to delay rent payments, and if not, should consider how to have those resources in case of future disasters.

For some of these complexes, students are not being allowed to break their leases. In normal times, it makes perfect sense to deny students the option to vacate a legal contract. But nothing about what we’re living through right now is normal. If management companies can’t, or won’t, understand the financial burden that wasted rent places on their student tenants, then it’s up to the students to fight back. Collectively organizing against these companies may not lead to total rent cancellation, but it could lead to suspended payments or a potential refund.

It’s absurd for students to continue paying rent for an apartment they aren’t living in and amenities they aren’t using. The management companies that run the numerous off campus apartment complexes need to understand that, and adjust their rent policies to reflect this time of financial turmoil and uncertainty.

Maya Rosenberg is a sophomore journalism and public policy major. She can be reached at maya.b.rosenberg@gmail.com.

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