Following AU’s fall plan reversal, students get stuck with expensive leases
A month after the announcement, many are still looking for ways out
Anam Hussain has spent too much of her summer worrying about housing. The School of International Service sophomore intended to stay on campus for the fall semester, but after freshmen were given priority, Hussain found an apartment in the Avalon at Foxhall, near American University’s campus.
Less than three weeks after she and her roommate signed the lease, AU canceled all in-person classes for the fall after announcing in June that it would have a mixture of in-person and online classes.
Hussain wasn’t surprised by AU’s reversal. She was so worried it might happen that she previously asked how much it would cost to end her lease prematurely. Still, it was frustrating to back out of an agreement she had just signed, and the process of ending the lease was “super stressful,” Hussain said, costing half a month’s rent.
After the University canceled in-person classes on July 30, AU students across the U.S. scrambled to resolve housing conflicts they’d rushed to plan earlier in the summer. Many either backed out, like Hussain, or decided to accept the high cost of living in the District for a semester when, due to online classes, location matters less than normal.
“The stress of having to spend so much time looking for an apartment, finding everything and then having to cancel it … was really frustrating,” Hussain said. “It took awhile to set up, call utilities, etc., and I’m not really sure how to cancel all of that now.”
Matthew Markay, a sophomore in the College of Arts and Sciences, is in a similar predicament. When AU initially announced that it was conducting a hybrid semester, he and two friends jumped at what they thought was a golden opportunity. In retrospect, Markay said, they may have jumped too quickly.
The trio signed a lease for an apartment in the Greenbriar, excited at how easy the process was after Markay’s cousin connected them to the landlord and recommended they take his old apartment. When AU went fully online following travel restrictions in the District and growing concern over coronavirus case spikes, the group decided that staying home for the time being was safer than trying to get back to live in their new apartment.
The landlord understood, Markay said, and offered to waive their rent and void their lease if they could find tenants to replace them in the next few weeks.
“That seemed like pretty good news to us at the beginning of August, but it’s been three weeks now, and there’s really not that many people who want to rent that apartment,” Markay said.
Now, they’re stuck paying rent for an unoccupied apartment for the foreseeable future, or at least until they can find other tenants.
The Avalon and Greenbriar did not respond to a request for comment.
Markay tried posting in Facebook groups overflowing with students in similar situations, but he’s barely gotten any responses. They’ve thought about breaking the lease, Markay said, but worry about legal issues and additional costs.
Students like Markay and Hussain said that moving back to the District wasn’t just about proximity to AU — being in D.C. is comforting, they said, and they miss the culture of the city. The prospect of taking online classes at home is another issue, Hussain said. She has ADHD, so staying motivated and attentive during online classes is tough, especially with family around.
Other students, like Daniel Falkovic, a senior in the School of Public Affairs, have instead decided to stick the semester out with a rental in the District. He and four other students signed a lease a week before AU announced that the fall semester was going fully online, with only one roommate dropping off the lease. The remaining four split the cost difference.
Many students cited lease complications as contributing significantly to their predicament. For most, this was the first time they’d gone through the process, and the added uncertainty of the pandemic and AU’s plans made what is already a complicated series of steps into a significant source of stress.
In an email, AU spokesperson Stacie Burgess referred The Eagle to a July 30 memo from President Sylvia Burwell and others about the decision to go fully online, and said that AU is continuing to work with students on issues concerning leases. She also directed students to additional information on AU’s website regarding subletting and off-campus housing.
“This was a difficult, but necessary decision,” Burgess wrote. “While recognizing the disappointment, AU continues to work with students to provide resources to adjust or end leases.”