University House Leasing Center

University House is a self-marketed student apartment complex a block from Cal State Fullerton. (Jessica Benda / Daily Titan) 

As the end of the year approaches and renters reach the midway point of their housing contracts, leasing centers near Cal State Fullerton have profusely advertised for renewals, anticipating that the university will soon no longer be virtual.

“We’re doing a big push for renewals in the hopes that school will be in person next year and residents will be able to return to campus and do in-person classes,” said Elizabeth Nims, the leasing coordinator at the Oxford North Apartments located near the Fullerton Arboretum.

The COVID-19 pandemic has affected all aspects of the economy in America, leaving landlords and renters in a difficult position.

After CSUF announced that the 2021 spring semester will be held online, students who lived in apartments neighboring the campus were presented with the option to either look for alternative living arrangements or renew their leases.

Apartment complexes such as the Oxford North Apartments are continually accepting immediate move-ins as their vacancy level is higher than normal.

“In previous years, we were much closer to 100% occupancy, ranging from like 95 to 100% occupancy meaning that we were almost entirely filled up with residents,” Nims said.

Nims added that in comparison to past years, occupancy at the apartments ranged from 65% to 70%. As soon as the campus closed, the community that was dependent on the university, including local businesses, felt a huge loss.

“If residents are feeling like they are not going to have access to campus because Cal State Fullerton is such a big commuter school and a lot of people come from out of the area, there is less value in living near a campus that you can’t even go on to,” Nims said.

Not only have apartments struggled with renewals, but keeping tenants who are already locked into leases also proved difficult.

Maria Penaloza, the leasing consultant at the UCA Apartment Homes, said that many tenants were able to get out of their leases, however, some leases required an early termination fee to opt out.

Other local apartment complexes have clung onto their tenants through binding contracts and steep penalties.

In July, University House apartment residents who wished to leave their leases without major consequences started a petition which was disregarded due to their contracts. Those who had already signed leases for the school year would be financially responsible for the amount of their lease.

Jessica Bradbury, a senior majoring in kinesiology, distinctly remembers the summer that students were trying to find a way to end their leases after the university went virtual. She said that some people were successful and left without paying a termination fee, while most had to find a replacement tenant.

“They said that if you got someone to take over your lease, you could get out so then everyone was just posting on Facebook Marketplace and stuff trying to find someone,” Bradbury said. “I wasn’t able to find someone, so I got stuck paying for rent for this whole year and I haven’t even been in Fullerton.”

Bradbury said that the apartment complex probably didn’t want to lose money, so it urged tenats to find replacements in order to keep the same capacity. University House tried to keep as many renters as possible, which resulted in people unnecessarily paying for the residency, she added.

She compared the complex’s leniency to the other housing that surrounds CSUF, citing the shorter term lease agreements that are offered to students as opposed to the University House that has year long contracts.

“Because there is a lot of uncertainty, I doubt that a lot of people actually renewed for next year,” Bradbury said.

While apartment tours have become complicated, adjustments have been made, such as offering virtual tours, in order to keep everyone safe.

Since no plans have been set in stone, apartment complexes are going to keep its doors open so students can have options until an official decision is made, Nims said.

“We’re seeing people that are wanting to move in now and lease out for the remainder of the year and then consider renewing based off of what the school decides to do,” Nims said.

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