Some CSUF students may lose thousands to off-campus leases after complex denies cancellations

(Jessica Benda / Daily Titan)

Though many Cal State Fullerton students were sent home for the spring semester, some are locked into off-campus leases that have not even begun.

Several students who have contracts with University House, which is a self-marketed student housing complex a block from CSUF, are voicing their frustrations after reportedly being denied cancellation of their upcoming leases and facing an over $13,000 loss.

According to the University House website, almost all of its residents are CSUF students. University House leases last from Aug. 19 through July 29 of the following year, according to the complex’s website. However, students, like third-year Courtney Chandler, renewed their leases for 2020-21 last October — without the knowledge that the COVID-19 pandemic would strike five months later, leaving some with leases that they no longer need in the wake of the primarily virtual semester.

Chandler said that the only way that she can be let out of her lease, which would last through July 2021, is if she finds someone to replace her.

“I’ve been trying to find somebody for the past three to four months. I haven’t had any luck. I’ve talked to multiple people. After I realized that a lot of other people were in the same situation and I saw a few comments on their Instagram, I decided to make a petition to draw more attention to the situation,” Chandler said.

Her petition on Change.org urges University House to let residents terminate their upcoming leases. The petition was later expanded to include those living in any complex owned by the Scion Group, the company that operates University House. As of Thursday night, it has collected over 1,000 signatures.

Chandler said she will have to pay about $14,000 for the year-long lease in monthly installments. She also said that she would feel a lot better if she could live with her parents in Lake Elsinore instead of being forced to stay in University House. Even with her current circumstances, she said she is luckier than most to be in a stable financial state.

“I know for a lot of other people how tough it can be with them losing their jobs, especially if their parents have lost their jobs, because I know not everybody can afford it,” Chandler said.

When reached for comment, a representative from University House directed the Daily Titan to the owner of the complex, the Scion Group. Based in Chicago, Illinois, the Scion Group is North America’s leading private owner of student housing, as it employs nearly 1,300 people and operates 86 communities, according to their website.

Keith Thompson, vice president of property operations at the Scion Group, said in an email to the Daily Titan that the company was sensitive to the pandemic’s financial and health impacts on residents, but also said that the company still must pay their mortgage, property taxes, staff payroll and other operating expenses.

“We rely on revenue from our contracted residents to meet our own obligations and to be able to keep the community operating safely for the hundreds of students that make their homes there. This is why we are not in a position to simply allow open cancellation at this point; we must continue to look to our contracted residents under their housing agreements, unless we are able to mitigate our losses from termations,” Thompson said.

He added that if they were able to achieve profit in these circumstances, which he said is unlikely, it would belong mostly to pension funds that in turn provide those returns to retirees.

This fall, Cal State Fullerton will hold only 2.2% of its courses on campus, while the state of the spring 2021 semester remains uncertain.

This left many residents with little reason to stay in Fullerton, such as Angela Arbe, a third-year business major at CSUF. Arbe said she signed her contract with University House in January, and this was to be her first year living in the complex. Now, she said she lives at home in Lake Forest, but is facing around a $13,500 loss if she cannot find someone to take her lease for the upcoming academic year.

“It’s really stressful. Besides stressful, just trying to find someone every day on either Facebook or Craigslist or just answering a bunch of messages, and financially my family can’t afford it right now,” Arbe said.

Arbe said she was put on a termination list in June, which would release everyone on the list from their contracts if the complex could find replacements, but it would only be valid if all the spots were filled. She added that the complex capacity was only at 70%, leaving students to solve the problem themselves.

Thompson said that residents who want to terminate their leases should advise University House personally.

“As we have already done with numerous people in the same situation, we will work cooperatively to attempt to fill those spaces together with all other vacant spaces.” Thompson said. “This process is ongoing and has been successful for many residents whose plans have changed.”

Thompson said that though it primarily serves CSUF students among those at other local colleges, it is not affiliated with any university and accepts non-students.

University House markets itself as “top quality student housing serving Cal State Fullerton” and was designed with the campus in mind, according to the website. 

Aulanah Glenn, a fifth-year public health major from the Inland Empire, said she did not feel taken care of as a student and is struggling to find a replacement for the lease she renewed last fall. On Tuesday, she said that University House told her that if she was not going to be living in the complex for the upcoming year, she would have to pay the entirety of her lease up front.

Glenn said that while she understands that the company has its mortgage to pay too, she said she felt played and exploited.

“I just feel like they don’t really care about the students. It’s advertised as student housing, but I don’t feel like I’m being taken care of as a student,” Glenn said.

She added that many people in University House were not taking precautions against COVID-19, which recently swept Orange County in the second-worst outbreak in California, according to the Los Angeles Times.

“They’re completely not social distancing at all,” Glenn said. “I’ve seen parties. I’ve seen people at the pool; the pool is opened up. And, I just don’t want to stay there.”

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