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Wednesday, July 1, 2020

COVID-19 impacts students’ search for off-campus housing

With social distancing laws in place, students now only have the option to search for housing virtually

Students are facing difficult decisions about off-campus housing due to COVID-19. // Illustration by Rachel Alexander

By Sienna Boucher

Spring is the house-hunting time of year for Western students. Julia Burns of Western’s Off-Campus Housing office, reports that many students have felt conflicted this quarter when it comes to looking for off-campus housing. 

“Some students don’t know whether to sign leases or not for next year. Some students lost their jobs and are having trouble paying rent,” Burns said. 

Some students wish to go home, but feel trapped in their leases. Others don’t want to be around their roommates because they are at-risk, Burns said. 

One student who was having trouble paying rent was Breanna Grehan. As someone who is currently unemployed due to COVID-19, she had worries about being able to pay her rent on May 1, which caused her to be unable to resign her lease. 

“Without telling me, my landlord already found a group who can pay their deposit immediately. Now I have to find a new place for next year,” Grehan said. 

Although her landlord did not allow her to stay on the lease, this goes against Gov. Jay Inslee’s new ban on evictions, which is good through June 4. This ban prevents rent hikes, certain late fees and allows tenants to stay in place after their lease ends. 

Burns suggested that as the university still plans on being open for next quarter, students should still be searching for suitable accommodation. 

“According to the landlords that I work regularly with, they are still continuing to do pre-leasing and people are signing new leases so I wouldn’t wait too long to make sure you have housing secured,” Burns said. 

Even if students can afford to sign onto a new lease, there still are difficulties with the process. With social distancing laws in place, students cannot see the house in-person before signing the lease. 

Victoria Rains, a fourth-year at Western, would feel better about signing a lease if she was able to see the house in person. 

“It’s a bit hard because we can’t fully grasp what the size of the unit is actually like,” Rains said. 

Rains also expressed struggles with the e-signatures. 

“When we were signing the paper we had to do it electronically. For me it was fine since I had an iPad and a printer but my other friends had a little trouble with it.”

However, Rains said the rental company that she worked with seemed to be as accommodating as they could. 

Phyllis McKee is a private landlord, a part owner of Jonasson-McKee LLC. They rent out homes in South Bellingham and Fairhaven. 

McKee said that since she only posts applications when she has a vacancy, she is thankful to have just one vacancy this year. The rest of her renters have resigned their leases. 

McKee said that some of her tenants have expressed concern over COVID-19 unemployment. However, while some of them fret about paying rent, McKee said that she hasn’t had too many problems. 

“Only one tenant has paid rent late,” McKee said. So far, she has not had anyone leave due to not being able to afford rent. 

Even after the pandemic ceases, what happens with lease signing this spring will have an impact on students and landlords alike throughout the rest of next year. 

Check out the Off-Campus Living COVID-19 website for information and resources specific to renting during COVID-19.

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