UCF students stuck in leases they signed pre-pandemic; class-action lawsuit filed says complexes ‘placing profit over safety’

Video: UCF students stuck in leases they signed pre-pandemic; class-action lawsuit filed says complexes ‘placing profit over safety’

ORLANDO, Fla. — Some students at the University of Central Florida who opted for remote classes this semester are still stuck with apartment leases signed before the pandemic.

We told you back in the spring about how local lawmakers took off-campus apartment complexes to task for forcing students to pay, even after the campus was shut down.

Some parents claim those complexes are refusing to work with them as they are now facing a full year of rent payments.

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When UCF and other state universities shut down after spring break last semester, students living in on-campus dormitories got a portion of their money back. Those who lived in off-campus apartments were out of luck.

“I don’t think she should be locked into a lease,” UCF parent Lisa Stanley said. Stanley’s daughter did not want to be on television, but she’s one of the thousands of students who opted for remote classes this semester. 

She is sandwiched between two leases for two apartments she didn’t use. The first is from the end of last semester at the University House apartments, which sent her a letter demanding hundreds of dollars in past-due rent. This semester, she was set to move into Knightshade, formerly The Retreat, where she signed a year-long lease before the pandemic. 

“The housing fills up, and if you want to get a nicer place to stay, you need to do it early,” Stanley explained.  “So right after February, we secured the housing for the upcoming year.”

Stanley said Knightshade offered to put her unit on a sublet list, but if it doesn’t rent, she is still on the hook for payment. 

9 Investigates reached out to the owners of Knightshade, and we are still waiting to hear back.

A University House spokesperson told Eyewitness News it is more than 90% occupied today, with additional residents moving in soon.  The spokesperson said the complex has worked cooperatively with any contracted residents whose plans changed, and have already been able to help find replacement residents for approximately three-quarters of those who no longer wanted their spaces in the community. According to University House, the apartment is continuing efforts to mitigate any loss from those residents still seeking to terminate their contracts rather than move in.

A class-action lawsuit shows the Stanley family is not alone.

Parents of other UCF students are suing a different corporate complex owner, which owns the Plaza on University, for “placing profit over safety,” and “continuing to demand payment from students who have rightly returned home.”

Attorneys for American Campus Communities, which owns the Plaza at University, filed a motion to dismiss the class-action lawsuit. In the filing, it wrote, “Specifically, the Complaint should be dismissed because: (1) Plaintiffs’ apartment complexes with ACC remain open and accessible and were designated as an essential service throughout the pandemic; (2) Plaintiffs have operative lease and guaranty agreements that remain in force, and bar this action as per State of Florida tenant/landlord law no different than any other multi-family lease agreement; and (3) school closures have no bearing on the validity of those agreements and obligations of the parties under same, no different than an employer’s actions would have on the tenant of any existing multi-family apartment lease.”

State Rep. Carlos Guillermo-Smith first asked Gov. Ron DeSantis to issue an executive order allowing students at Florida’s universities to break their off-campus leases in April, but nothing was ever enacted.

“Everything has changed, and yet there’s very little wiggle room that these corporate landlords are giving them so that they can move on with their lives, and not have to pay thousands and thousands of dollars in outstanding rent for an apartment they don’t live in,” Guillermo-Smith said. 

Stanley worries the overdue rent from last semester will be sent to collections, as the past-due rent letter indicates, even though the apartment was empty.  

Video: What UCF's first day of school looked like on campus during pandemic

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