Both renters and landlords have been hit hard by COVID-19, but where do one group’s rights end and the other’s begin?
It’s a question the BYU community has been asking since Winter Semester 2020 when students petitioned to be released from their contracts after moving home due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
There is renewed interest in the question, however, with the start of Fall Semester. Redstone Residential, which manages some BYU-contracted apartments, has sent out a COVID-19 liability waiver to all of its residents, including those not contracted with BYU.
The waiver verifies that the renter has reviewed and understands all CDC guidelines and acknowledges that Liberty Square, managed by Redstone Residential, cannot ensure that residents will not get sick with or exposed to COVID-19.
“It is (the renter’s) sole responsibility to ensure their physical condition is suitable for the health risks that may be encountered while on the apartment premises,” states the waiver.Redstone_Fall-2020-COVID-Liability-Waiver
BYU spokeswoman Carri Jenkins said the Off-Campus Housing Office is aware of such waiver addendums and that they do not contradict the terms of the standard contract.
“While the OCH Office cannot give legal advice to students or to landlords, we encourage students who have a dispute with these waivers or their contracts to reach out to BYU’s Center for Peace and Conflict Resolution, where the matter can be mediated or arbitrated,” Jenkins said.
A statement from Redstone Residential shows the difficulties landlords and management companies have faced during the pandemic and the motivation behind the waiver.
“Because pandemics have generally not been objects of consideration in rental contracts, there have been questions as to the integrity of rental contracts and building owner liability,” reads the statement. “The addendum is a simple liability release that takes into account these considerations and reminds residents that it is their responsibility to keep themselves healthy.”
According to the website of the Utah Apartment Association, whose members consist of owners and managers of over 110,000 rentals across Utah, residents cannot use the coronavirus to require more from management than a contract provides.
For example, landlords and management companies have no obligation to report cases or make notices about general information about the coronavirus.
While landlords aren’t required to provide cleaning supplies or sanitize common areas, the Utah Apartment Association encourages it as a best practice to help prevent the spread of disease.
Likewise, the association encourages landlords and management companies to restrict usage of their leasing offices and clubhouses, consider closing fitness facilities, cancel any parties or gatherings sponsored by management, and discourage or cancel the use of amenities for large gatherings.
“While building owners can increase sanitation of common areas, it is up to each individual resident to ensure they are following CDC guidelines and social distancing practices while inside units and away from the property,” reads the Redstone Residential statement.
BYU geography major Jordan Hamann lives in Arcadia apartments, a Redstone property. He said he wishes there was a way for students to influence the institutions and policies that affect housing in Provo. His reaction to the waiver was resignation.
“It’s not entirely incorrect, but it is a harsh reminder of the issues that student housing presents in this pandemic. What options exactly do BYU students in the bubble have? Are we not a captive audience?” he said.”I knew that when I started here, but who says it has to be so troublesome?”