ORLANDO, Fla. — 9 Investigates whether UCF student leases for off-campus housing complexes are now being sent to collections for the full lease amount, after students opted to learn virtually instead of moving in near campus.
Many students signed leases for this school year a year ago, well before COVID-19 disrupted their plans. That’s why, at the start of the pandemic, State Rep. Carlos Guillermo-Smith asked Gov. Ron DeSantis to include students in protections that would allow them out of their leases.
Now, we’re learning some of those accounts might have been turned over to collections, not just for the fall semester’s rent, but for the next seven months in the future.
Many UCF students never set foot on campus at all this past semester, and that means some off-campus apartments stayed empty, too.
“We never picked up the keys, she never moved in,” Lisa Stanley said about her daughter’s off-campus apartment.
Stanley’s daughter didn’t want her face on TV, but she’s one of the thousands who opted for remote classes amid COVID-19. That meant she never moved into her leased apartment at Knightshade, formerly The Retreat, which her mom says has now turned the entire yearlong lease over to collections.
Stanley says she learned of the collections claim as she tried to call and sublease the apartment to a new renter.
“She’s sitting in front of a laptop, and they want me to pay more than $12,000,” Stanley said.
Stanley sent us a document appearing to be from Knightshade, showing the outstanding balance which includes “accelerated rent” for the months of December 2020 through July 2021. She also sent an email in which an assistant manager at the complex referred her to a collections agency for questions about the bill.
“It’s incredibly frustrating and disappointing,” Guillermo-Smith said.
Smith believes this could have been avoided if his request to DeSantis to issue an executive order had been approved, allowing students at Florida’s universities to break their off-campus leases at the start of the pandemic.
“Now, all of these months later, as collections agencies are hounding some of these individuals for rent they never moved into, executive action from the governor would be too little, too late,” Guillermo-Smith said.
Parents of other UCF students are suing a different company, which owns the Plaza on University apartments, for “placing profit over safety,” and “continuing to demand payment from students who have rightly returned home.”
In response to that suit, the owners of Plaza at University wrote in a court filing that “school closures have no bearing on the validity of a lease.” That suit has been referred to mediation.
We reached out to Knightshade via phone and email, both in August and again Wednesday, with no response.
We also reached out to the collections agency and were referred to an HR department in the Southwest Florida area, and no one there returned our calls.