Petition to cancel off-campus housing contracts continues despite setbacks

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A petition to let BYU students out of their housing contracts has garnered over 16,000 signatures despite efforts to quiet the petitioners.

Following The Universe’s report on a petition to allow students to terminate their contracts, Julie Brooks, a first-year law student and creator of the petition emailed Provo City Mayor Michelle Kaufusi for help. Mayor Kaufusi responded to the email writing: “Thank you for sharing this with me. I have a meeting with BYU and other stakeholders in the city to discuss this situation . . . We are meeting next week.”

The Universe received a phone call from Nicole Martin, Provo City’s Public Information Officer two days after the email was sent. Martin said the meeting is not happening.

“The mayor is not going to delve into anything that isn’t strictly about city operations,” Martin said, adding that she did not know who sent the email or what it said.

Immediately following the phone call with the Universe, Martin called Brooks to tell her the same thing.

Brooks has since created an Instagram account, @letusgocovid19, to bring more attention to the situation. She posted a screenshot of the email from the mayor, with a caption reading: “Do you think this meeting needs to happen? Call her office.”

The day after her post on Instagram, Brooks received an official statement from the mayor’s office.

“I meet regularly with members of BYU’s administration, and in response to these recent student inquiries, I reached out to them,” Mayor Kaufusi wrote. “The city can’t modify these contracts, but we can encourage things from the sidelines. In that spirit, I hope that landlords who are in a financial position to do so will factor compassion into their decision making.”

Tim Metler, property manager for Legend Real Estate, believes that there are few landlords who are in that financial position. He manages the finances for some local properties, including in some cases paying the mortgage. “Between 5-10% of these are making a profit,” he said.

He admitted that he manages the finances for only a minority of the total properties under Legend Real Estate. Metler isn’t privy to any financial information, even whether a mortgage has been paid off or not, unless the owner voluntarily gives him that information.

Since posting the link to her petition, Brooks was kicked out of three different BYU Housing Facebook groups after posting the link to her petition to the group. Her posts were also subsequently deleted.

“I respect it if they want to maintain neutrality,” she said, “but if they’re kicking me out because they’re siding against me, that’s not okay.”

One of the groups that removed Brooks from its page, BYU HOUSING – Provo/Orem Rentals, Apartments, Roommates, Sublets, is hosted by Roomr, a real estate consulting company. “We connect over 30 people to potential buyers a day usually,” cofounder Lee Chang said. “Although recently may be different,” he added, in reference to the COVID-19 outbreak.

Of the post, Chang said, “It was likely deleted by the community moderators for not being a strictly for sale or ISO (In search of) posts. Roomr team members aren’t responsible for moderation, we invite local group members to moderate according to best interest standards.”

Chang verified that Brooks had been removed from the group, but she has since been added back in again. Her post as also been reinstated. Moderators decided to disable comments for her post, and previous comments are no longer visible.

“I’m allowing it in a special case because we are in special times,” Chang said. “However the group is not going to sponsor any side of the debate more than the other.”

Brooks has also started her own Facebook group to promote the petition and its success stories. It has been met with some opposition.

https://www.facebook.com/letusgoCOVID19/

“There’s been comments that people who signed the petition belong in hell, stuff like that,” Brooks said. “I deleted the comments.”

According to Ben Schneider, a junior studying economics at BYU, the petition helped him get out of his contract at Branbridge. Previously, he’d had success selling his contract for this same apartment but ever since the outbreak, it was a hard sell.

“(Before), it was super easy,” he said. “I had people asking left and right.”

Since he wasn’t receiving offers on his listing, he emailed his landlord to have his contract terminated. ” I also sent her a link to the petition. I also quoted the [Section 23(b)] part in the contract.”

The landlord kept Schneider’s security deposit but let him terminate the contract, which saved Schneider over $1,000 in rent. He’s since returned home to Idaho Falls but plans to return to Provo in the fall.

“I’m planning on living there (in Branbridge) again,” he said. I already pre-signed a contract for fall. The owners were merciful to let me out of it, so I’m thankful for that.”

Branbridge has also given Schneider until May 25 to cancel his 2020-2021 contract.

BYU-Idaho students are seeing mixed results. Maria Shishmareva is a senior studying communications. Her management is asking for half of the rent.

“I don’t think that the situation here is any better than in Provo,” she said. Shishmareva is from Russia and only had one semester left of school.

“I never lived (at this complex) before, decided to try,” she said, adding that she feels trapped in her contract. “Worked really well as you can see.”

“If (I) sign a contract with almost any other housing, my situation probably would not be much better,” she added.

Some students have been asked to sign non-disclosure agreements after negotiating their rental agreements. Metler, the property manager for Legend Real Estate, has delivered non-disclosure agreements to both students and landlords because this is standard procedure.

“We tried to standardize the process for the tenants,” Metler said. He says he’s done this in an effort to align with the rules set by the BYU Center for Peace and Conflict Resolution.

One of the mediation rules guarantees confidentiality for both parties. The rule is that “any oral or written communications prepared specifically for or expressed in the course of the mediation proceeding are privileged and confidential and shall not be disclosed through discovery or any other compulsory process and are not admissible as evidence in any judicial or arbitration proceeding.”

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