FAQs: Non-University Housing

Due to the large number of calls that our Student Affairs team has received from students who live in off-campus non-university housing, we developed the following responses to some frequently asked questions regarding students’ rights and responsibilities in light of the current COVID-19 situation. As a reminder, nothing in this notice constitutes legal advice and it should not be taken as such. 

The Student Affairs team strongly encourages students who live in off-campus non-university housing to discuss their individual situation with their current landlord and/or hire an attorney before taking any action related to off-campus housing because of the COVID-19 situation.

If you are facing a dispute with your landlord, the USC Housing Law Clinic provides free professional legal services to community residents. In addition, USC’s Undergraduate Student Government (USG) and Graduate Student Government (GSG) provide free legal counseling for students over the summer. Appointments take place via phone every Monday from 4-9 p.m. PST, and they are on a first-come, first-served basis. Contact stuacts@usc.edu with any questions.

Note: The ordinance discussed below only applies to tenants whose off-campus housing is located within the limits of the City of Los Angeles. If you live outside the City of Los Angeles (e.g., West Hollywood, Inglewood, Santa Monica, etc.), please check to see whether your local leaders have issued similar orders or ordinances.

FAQs

That depends on the specific language of your lease, where you live, and whether you or a household member is ill, in isolation, or under quarantine due to COVID-19. On May 7, 2020, Mayor Garcetti signed an ordinance prohibiting “no-fault evictions” of residential tenants until he declares that the local emergency period necessitated by COVID-19 is over.

That means that if you or a household member has an illness, is in isolation, or under quarantine due to COVID-19 and the term of your lease ends, or you have followed the terms of your lease and your landlord gives you a notice that the lease is ending anyway, you are likely protected from being evicted until the emergency period ends. The ordinance also likely protects you if your landlord tries to evict you for not paying rent, assuming that you were unable to pay rent for certain reasons related to COVID-19 (see the FAQ below).

It depends on your personal situation, the language of your lease, and where you live. The ordinance that Mayor Garcetti signed on May 7, 2020 temporarily prohibits landlords from evicting tenants who can show that they are unable to pay rent due to circumstances related to the COVID-19 pandemic, including (a) loss of income due to a COVID-19 related workplace closure, (b) child care expenses due to school closures, (c) health care expenses related to being ill with COVID-19 or caring for a household member who is ill with COVID-19; and (d) reasonable expenses stemming from government-ordered emergency measures.

Note that the ordinance only protects people who are unable to pay rent—if you are financially able to pay rent, you likely still have to do so! And if you think you qualify for protection, you may one day have to show that in court, so it is a good idea to keep thorough records (expense receipts, copies of letters, emails, and text messages, etc.) demonstrating how the COVID-19 epidemic is preventing you from being able to pay rent.

Remember that under the ordinance, you will still have to pay the rent back. Tenants who qualify for protection under the ordinance have twelve months after the emergency period ends to pay back any rent they owe. The ordinance prohibits landlords from charging interest or late fees on that rent. It is unclear, however, whether landlords will be allowed to impose any other penalties because rent was not paid on time.

It depends on the language of your lease. Some leases contain a force majeure clause, which allows the lease to be terminated due to natural disasters or other “acts of God.” If your lease has this type of clause, especially if it specifically mentions an epidemic, pestilence, or other disease outbreak, you may be able to terminate the lease.

California courts also recognize an equitable “doctrine of frustration,” which may provide another basis for you to terminate your lease — especially if the lease shows that you and your landlord knew you were renting the residence to serve as student housing.

We strongly recommend contacting an attorney before taking steps to terminate any lease.

We do not recommend doing this, especially before trying to reach an agreement with your landlord. If you stop paying rent, your lease may entitle your landlord to keep your security deposit. Your landlord may also be entitled to collect the total amount of rent you still owe under the lease.

Accordingly, unless you stop paying because you are temporarily protected under the ordinance discussed above (or another similar ordinance if you live in a different city), failing to pay rent as required could lead to your landlord filing a lawsuit against you to get the money they are owed. While your landlord likely has an obligation to mitigate their damages (e., to try and find a new tenant to take your place), it may be hard for them to do so in light of the COVID-19 situation.

Hiring a lawyer to defend you could also be expensive, providing even more incentive to come to an agreement with your landlord.

As a reminder, nothing in this notice constitutes legal advice and it should not be taken as such. If you have further questions or feel that your landlord is treating you unfairly, the Student Affairs team highly recommends that you speak with an independent, licensed attorney.