Changes coming to BYU’s Off-Campus Housing Office?

Hampstead Condominiums is an off-campus housing location in Provo. BYU students are working to increase awareness of tenants’ rights at this and other BYU-contracted housing locations. (Preston Crawley)

Representatives from the BYU Off-Campus Housing Office met with students July 2 to hear their concerns about housing and discuss how to better meet their needs.

BYUSA president and vice president Spring Buford and Emilee McFadden were also in attendance. The meeting focused largely on ways to increase students’ awareness of their housing rights, according to law student Julie Brooks, who was present at the meeting. Brooks has been advocating for changes in student housing since COVID-19 prompted some students to petition to be released from their contracts.

The university hadn’t yet responded to the Universe’s request for a comment about the meeting.

“A lot of what we’re probably going to be doing is focusing on how we can disseminate information, how we can encourage people to start reading their lease agreements and freshening up or what their housing rights are,” Brooks said.

She also said she and other students will be working with the Off-Campus Housing Office to create an easy and accessible way for students to report housing violations.

For example, Brooks said some landlords in Provo have been giving prospective tenants unethical “pre-applications” asking for personal information such as whether they have pre-existing medical conditions that could potentially cause them to leave school or whether they plan to get married or leave on a mission. Students who answered yes to any of these questions, Brooks said, were made to sign an agreement saying they would not cancel their housing contract in those events, despite the contract itself allowing for cancellations in those cases.

“You can’t do that. That’s completely illegal,” Brooks said of the practice.

Brooks said the representatives from Off-Campus Housing at the meeting were enthusiastic about working more closely with students and she anticipates an increase in student participation in the Off-Campus Housing Office in the future.

The meeting was scheduled in response to a letter written by Brooks and others enumerating suggested reforms to the Off-Campus Housing Office and contract. Brooks said that while they discussed students’ concerns with the housing contract in the meeting, they did not reach any definitive conclusions, nor did the Off-Campus Housing representatives guarantee any changes would be made to the contract.

Provo landlords Jason and Reina Gamett expressed support for the idea of students working more closely with the Off-Campus Housing Office.

“I think it’s good for Off-Campus Housing, to be able to educate students on what their rights are, what they can and cannot do,” Jason said, adding that he felt students aren’t always aware of those rights. He warned, however, that serious changes to the housing contract might have unintended negative consequences for students.

Some changes outlined in Brooks’ letter, such as shortening the cancellation notice period to 30 days or increasing the number of reasons a student could cancel her contract, increase the risk that landlords might not fill all of their spots, Jason explained. Since many landlords need to pay off mortgages on their properties, they might choose to raise rent to compensate for that risk.

The Gametts own and rent out one condo at Belmont. When BYU made the switch to remote learning at the end of Winter Semester 2020, the Gametts allowed their tenants to not pay April rent if they chose to go home. Despite their choice, Jason said he would not support BYU forcing landlords to release students from their contracts in the event that BYU asks students to go home.

“Landlords are private real estate owners, and they all have different circumstances,” he said. “Students have made agreements and commitments to their landlords that they should have to fulfill unless they work out something with their landlord.”

Reina also noted that BYU imposing stricter rules on contracted housing locations could cause some landlords to seek out other renters, such as UVU students, which could result in a housing shortage for BYU students.

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