OPINION: Students staying in Boone are overcharged for rent


Adam Zebzda and Caleb Garbuio

The coronavirus pandemic is impacting one demographic in particular: student renters. 

With classes moving online after a weeklong extension of spring break, and university officials urging students to remain off-campus, some students have gone back home, leaving an economic burden in Boone: rent. 

Nearly 70% of Mountaineers live in off-campus housing, and because  Boone’s average rent costs over $800, students no longer need to spend money on off-campus housing. College is an expensive investment for students and their families. Yet, renters need students to follow their contractual obligations to stay open. Allowing students to renege on contractual obligations is unethical, as is forcing them to pay for a service that is no longer needed with the UNC university shutdown. Therefore, the ethical course of action would be to allow low and moderate-income students to pay rent at a reduced rate.

Currently, under North Carolina law, a tenant can only legally break their lease if they are the victim of violence, beginning active military service, their rental unit violates safety or health codes, or the landlord violates their privacy rights. However, pandemics are not covered in the fine print.

Without legal justification, a lease’s early termination is at the landlord’s discretion. Failure to comply with the law implies hefty fees and fines for the renter. Worse, failure to pay rent on time can lead to eviction, damaged credit and hardship in finding a future rental. 

North Carolina Supreme Court Chief Judge Cheri Beasley halted eviction hearings for 30 days  in her March 15 memo to courts across the state. This is not nearly enough. 

The General Assembly and Governor Roy Cooper (D) must halt all evictions, foreclosures and utility disconnects in North Carolina for at least 90 days. This gives renters the opportunity to obtain the finances needed to pay off their rent. 

Furthermore, the General Assembly and Cooper must create a window of at least 90 days after the State’s Emergency Declaration is revoked for renters to pay back owed rent before facing legal repercussions.

Landlords and rental companies must be financially flexible. While breaking a lease may not be feasible, rent payment should be reduced by 10 to 50% depending on the income of tenants. As stores across America begin to reduce hours, the pockets of many families will begin to shrink, causing a spillover into making rent payments on time. 

App State’s Student Government Association must create a taskforce to bring all affected parties to the table to ensure the welfare of students. The taskforce must start a dialogue with students, university officials, landlords, and rental companies on how to move forward. 

Lastly, App State officials must develop a strategy to financially assist economically vulnerable students with rent payments during this time along with beginning the refunding process as soon as possible for all services students no longer use.

While many students are choosing to remain at home, instead of remaining in Boone, landlords should still remain flexible because the terms of the lease have changed. The majority of students rented off-campus housing with the expectation of attending class in person. Now, because classes have moved online, there is no longer a housing demand in Boone. This means that students are being overcharged because the demand for off-campus housing has shrunk. Therefore, the cost should be reduced to match the current demand for off-campus housing.