When one father read the email Granite Student Living sent his daughter in response to the coronavirus outbreak, he said he was floored.
The message made no mention of deferred rent payments or difficult financial circumstances related to the crisis, according to a copy he provided to The Exponent. Instead, it reminded residents of proper move-out procedures and a $250 fee for each day of occupation beyond a lease’s end date. Emails in the following days reiterated the April 1 rent due date.
“What people want to see is that you understand the crisis and that you’re willing to work with students,” said Ken, who requested his last name not be used to avoid retaliation against his daughter. “You can waive some things to show that you care about people, not profit.”
Ken said he pays his daughter’s rent and can handle the financial burden. But he sympathized with students who might have relied on now-canceled campus jobs for their income and are now unable to pay.
“Why don’t you send something out that talks about what you’re willing to do to give these students some peace of mind without creating additional stress on top of the stress that everybody’s got in the world already?” he added.
Granite, the second-largest landlord near Purdue, did not respond to repeated requests for comment. The only coronavirus-related information on its website as of Sunday night cites federal guidelines for avoiding the spread of germs.
Muinzer Management, West Lafayette’s only rental company larger than Granite, sent four emails to residents starting March 27 reminding them of the April 1 deadline, an uptick compared to a normal month’s communications. Though the messages did not mention financial stress, an additional email sent Friday — two days after the deadline — said it would be the last day residents could pay without late fees.
Muinzer also did not respond to requests for comment on whether it is worried about low payment rates or whether it will extend formal rent grace periods.
Director of Student Legal Services Leslie Charters said she’s seen an uptick in students who have lost their main source of income seeking advice on how to deal with landlords.
Charters’ first step is to reassure them that evictions are a non-issue, as Indiana Gov. Eric Holcomb’s March 20 executive order suspends them until the public health emergency declaration expires. On Friday, Holcomb announced the emergency would extend to May.
Alongside that, she referenced the $2.2 trillion coronavirus relief package Congress passed in March. A portion of the bill goes to expanded unemployment insurance benefits for furloughed or laid-off employees. Students who are counted as dependents are ineligible to receive the $1,200 one-time emergency payments, Charters noted.
Beyond government assistance, Charters said she encourages students to be creative in finding money sources, citing celebrity giveaways and various forms of online fundraising. Missed payments could mean permanent stains on credit reports, she warned.
“Ultimately, students have to know that the landlord has no obligation to them,” Charters said. “I mean, as a human being, I would hope that landlords would be sympathetic in a time like this — they just don’t have to be.”
Though most have chosen to maintain traditional first-of-the-month payment schedules as of Sunday night, economic disruption created by the coronavirus pandemic has prompted several West Lafayette apartment complexes to alter their terms.
The Avenues North and South, two large apartment complexes owned by property management company Scion, are offering residents until April 15 to make rent payments. Scion also owns Copper Beech Baywater and Copper Beech Klondike, where residents will receive the same two-week grace period.
“We know that many of our residents are facing financial uncertainty or income loss due to the coronavirus outbreak,” Eric Bronstein, executive vice president of Scion, said in an email. “We are continuing to pay all our staff and all our other expenses, but we wanted to help our residents and their families with a bit more time.”
Other apartment complexes have taken similar, less sweeping approaches to offering relief.
The Cottages on Lindberg, managed by Horizon Realty, sent an email to residents encouraging those in need to apply for extensions on rent deadlines. Horizon’s criteria for rent deferral are for its renters to have suffered substantial income loss, been burdened with new medical costs or been forced to self-quarantine as a result of the coronavirus outbreak. Based on individual circumstances, partial deferrals could be offered.
“If you are able to pay your April rent in full, we ask that you continue to do so as planned,” the email said. “Following these guidelines is critical to allow us to operate our business as normal and continue to support your neighbors who are most in need.”
Campus Edge on Pierce posted on its website informing residents that it would waive fees for late payments and ensure tenants’ credit scores would be unaffected. The complex’s newly formed COVID-19 Resident Hardship Program task force will operate on a case-by-case basis to extend rent relief to residents, according to the post.
Charters has told renters seeking help to explain their individual circumstances in conversations with landlords. Compromises are more likely to occur if a student can show that they’ve lost a job, she said, rather than returned to a permanent home out of mere preference.
The vast majority of the area’s landlords are not offering early lease terminations or complete forgiveness of payments, Charters said, and Indiana state law does not require them to. The companies do, however, have a legal duty to attempt to replace tenants who have left for the semester and wish to avoid paying rent for their empty apartments.
But with the mass exodus of students from campus after in-person classes were canceled, Charters said it’s unlikely vacant spots will be filled.
“So many students have left,” Charters said. “The chances of actually finding someone to sublease or fill the spot and sign a brand-new lease is very low.”
Cristie Dombkowski, a property manager for Weida Apartments, said a one-size-fits-all approach is not viable given the circumstances. She said Weida has increased accessibility by phone, as it’s closed leasing offices along with most other complexes. Many of her tenants have chosen to stay.
One Weida resident Dombkowski mentioned was in her final semester as a pharmacy student and had her graduation expedited to March 27 in light of the pandemic. The student had a job in Texas lined up this summer and had no reason to remain in West Lafayette. Dombkowski said Weida quickly opened the space to be subleased but is still waiting to fill it.
“We try to accommodate everyone as we can because it’s an evolving situation,” she said. “We have residents that don’t know if their financial source — if it’s their parents or their own job — is there.”
City reporter Carson Bailey contributed reporting.