tenants rights

Can College Students Break Their Off-Campus Lease?

NBC 7 Responds found that some students may have to pay for apartments they don't need

NBCUniversal, Inc.

When San Diego's universities moved to online classes, thousands of students were left with apartments they didn't need. Some moved home, while others stayed in San Diego and "attended" virtual classes.

But what are the student renters' rights during the pandemic?

"In California, there are very limited circumstances in which you can legally break a lease free of penalty," said Erin Rounds, managing attorney at the Tenant Legal Center. "That said, these are unprecedented times."

Rounds helps renters who have legal questions about their housing. She said that the situation ultimately depends on the lease agreement.

"Every lease agreement is different," Rounds said. "What is written in your lease affects how you go about breaking that lease."

Rounds suggested that if a student is in a situation where requires them breaking their lease, they should contact an attorney.

"Sometimes it's better for an attorney to contact your landlord and educate them on the law," Rounds said, "because even landlords don't really know what is going on right now."

On Tuesday, the San Diego City Council extended a moratorium on evictions through September. Rounds said, however, that the rules are changing every week.

"Even for attorneys, these are really unprecedented times," Rounds said. "There aren't clear laws, and the laws are ever-changing, particularly with all of this going on."

Many landlords whom Rounds has dealt with, though, were willing to negotiate a way for students to break their lease.

"They understand, especially with college students, that they can't live there anymore or they were never able to move in in the first place," Rounds said.

Students and their families who are looking to break a lease should keep copies of all documents and communications with their landlord, Rounds said.

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