College students and families still have to pay rent despite schools closing

Many college students and their parents have reached out to FOX 26, frustrated they still have to pay rent for apartments now that schools have canceled classes and gone online during the COVID-19 outbreak.

"It has kind of tripled the stress level we already have," said Barbara Quinones.

Quinones says her son is no longer living at the Cambridge Oaks, private student apartments associated with the University of Houston, where he attends school. But she says they received a notice from Cambridge Oaks, informing them they have to pay rent through the end of the lease.

"We have to pay all the way until the end of July, so we're paying over $2,000 for an apartment," she told us.

Because the apartments are affiliated with UH, which halted on-campus classes, she believes they should get a break.  She says it's a hardship for her family.

"I've been off work with disability. My husband just got laid off last Thursday," said Quinones.

But our FOX 26 legal analyst Chris Tritico says privately owned rental homes are legally entitled to collect rent because a lease is a contract.  Property owners have to pay bills, too, he explains.

"They need to look at that contract and if what it says is you agreed to pay that rent until 'x' date, then this doesn't let them out of it because the University canceled classes early," said Tritico.


He says people can challenge a lease arguing unforeseen circumstances through what's called a "Force Majeure," but it's an uphill battle.

"What the university said was you're not going to class. That doesn't mean you can't live in the apartment," he said.

Quinones wishes the apartments would accept a partial payment.

"I understand they're a business. I understand their bills don't stop. But there is no reason it can't come to some kind of compromise," she said.

We asked the University of Houston about this issue. A spokesperson tells us these are privately owned apartments that set their own policies.

Cambridge Oaks said they will send us a statement, we'll pass it on to you when they do.

For students looking for refunds on canceled classes, here's an update from some local schools:

Rice University says it is not refunding tuition because classes are being held remotely but are offering pro-rated refunds on room and board.  

The University of Houston says it's offering classes online and letting students stay in dorms.  Those who choose to move out can get pro-rated refunds on dorms, meals, and parking.

Student loan borrowers are getting some relief.

The Department of Education started waiving interest on federal student loans for 60 days as of March 13.  Borrowers can suspend payments for two months without additional interest.  The DOE says those already delinquent are getting an automatic suspension of payments.   

The Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board's website says borrowers may be eligible for reduced or postponed payments.  The Board is suspending collections on delinquent loans and waiving late fees.

Borrowers must contact your loan servicer to take advantage of these programs.

Since we reported this story, Cambridge Oaks sent us a statement over the weekend that reads in part:

“Although we lease land from the University of Houston, Cambridge Oaks is privately owned and operated. And unlike other on-campus residence halls at the University, we do not receive any state or federal funding. We rely on monthly installments from our residents to meet our financial obligations, including operational overhead costs and payroll for our staff.  

We understand that some residents may be facing financial hardships during these unprecedented times. As a result, we will not be assessing any late fees for the month of April. We are also offering payment plans for those who need further assistance.” 

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