Mediations on the rise as students try to get out of rental contracts

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More students are mediating their rental agreements with landlords since the COVID-19 pandemic caused BYU to shut down the campus.

Many students have returned home but find themselves still obligated to pay the rent for their off-campus housing.

BYU’s Center for Peace and Conflict Resolution anticipated a rise in mediations last month and issued a statement to set expectations for students.

The BYU Center for Peace and Conflict Resolution used to host mediations in the Wilkinson Center (Hannah Miner).

“Because of the possibly large number of COVID-19 housing cases, we expect that the dispute resolution process may take several months to work through the full caseload,” reads the Mediation Prep guide on the center’s website.

CPCR Assistant Director Emily de Schweinitz Taylor said their predictions were right. “We have received approximately 170 requests since the third week of March,” Taylor said. “We have received six arbitration requests regarding COVID-19 housing cases.” 

All COVID-19 housing cases will begin in a teleconference mediation session via Zoom, according to the center’s website. There are a total of 14 mediators tasked with handling the off-campus housing mediation sessions, and each session is meant to be under 90 minutes.

“Each week, we are holding 20-25 mediations,” Taylor said.

The BYU CPCR does not have the power to release students from their contracts. Their website states, “The university recognizes the housing contracts between student tenants and landlords as legally binding contracts, and that the university does not have the authority to mandate students be released from legally binding contracts.”

Maddie Rands, a junior studying studio art and education, is one of those students. She requested mediation just last week. She lived at Liberty Square, and is now looking to get out of her rental contract.

After filling out a request for mediation, she received a call from Taylor, who told her that there are over 80 open cases waiting to be mediated.

Rands is hopeful. “I had a pretty good case,” she said.

According to Tim Metler of Legend Real Estate, the company already has a standard procedure when it comes to mediating an issue between a tenant and a landlord. This week will be the first week that his company will attend a mediation session due to COVID-19. While he does expect to see an uptick in mediation, he said his company is prepared to settle disputes.

“I think we’ve been pretty successful working that through with the individual owners and tenants,” Metler said, speaking of previous sessions not related to the pandemic. “We’re feeling pretty good on our end.”

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