This year, due to the Coronavirus, college students and their parents face exceptional uncertainty as they plan for the coming academic year. One difficult decision, for those who live away from home and do not live in the school dorms, is how to handle off-campus housing.
Most off-campus housing requires that students, often with parental guarantees, agree to either a 9-month or a 1-year lease. These lease agreements generally do not contain provisions that allow a student renter to terminate the lease if in-person classes are canceled. This means that students and their parental guarantors are be obligated to pay rent for the duration of the lease, even though there is no reason to remain near the campus. In a time of economic insecurity, this creates a huge vulnerability that needs to be considered very carefully before signing or guaranteeing a lease.
Some leases do contain optional provisions that allow the tenant to terminate the lease with an agreement to pay liquidated damages of up to two month’s rent. These contractual provisions must be in the lease at the time of signing, and can offer a good way of students and parents to limit their exposure if the spread of the virus requires the campus be shut down. Such provisions are lawful if they are optional to the tenant and demand no more than two month’s rent. A provision that demands two month’s rent, plus forfeiture of the security deposit, violates Florida law.
When a tenant leaves early, and there is no early termination provision in the lease, the landlord has an obligation to try to find another tenant, but if the local college or university is not holding on-campus classes, this may prove difficult. Until another tenant is found, the landlord can seek to recover rent from the tenant who left early and from that tenant’s guarantor. Of course, nothing in the law forbids a landlord from simply treating the lease as terminated and releasing the departed tenant from further obligation on the lease, but in the current market, I don’t expect that many will do this.
If you have questions or concerns regarding a student housing matter, please do not hesitate to contact me or another qualified attorney to discuss your rights and obligations.