USG director proposes Tenant Protections Resolution

Undergraduate Director for External Affairs Chris Perez presented the Tenants’ Protection Resolution during Tuesday’s meeting, that would grant students to terminate leases, mandate re-letting fees waivers and provide rent subsidies. (Daily Trojan | Vincent Leo)

The Undergraduate Student Government presented a resolution Tuesday calling on city officials to push landlords to let college students out of their leases and provide rent subsidies. 

The resolution comes after the USC administration said it met with landlords ahead of the online fall semester but failed to negotiate new lease terms.

USG’s Committee Chair for External Affairs Chris Perez presented the Tenant Protections Resolution that asks Los Angeles City Council to implement policies that would allow students to end the terms of their leases, mandate leasing companies waive re-letting fees and provide rent relief for college students. According to the resolution, lease termination would be subject to students’ ability to provide documentation that proves the coronavirus has substantially impacted them. 

The resolution also calls on USG and the Graduate Student Government to work with local representatives and other university student governments in L.A. to create and support initiatives for student relief amid the pandemic. Perez and GSG Director for External Affairs David Angel co-authored the resolution. 

During the meeting, Perez said the resolution was a response to approximately 16,000 students in the Exposition Park neighborhood facing some form of housing difficulty since the pandemic forced classes online. After USC reneged in August on its initial plan to hold fall semester classes in person, students found themselves stuck in leases they no longer had use for or could no longer afford.

“The issue is that students have a variety of scenarios,” Perez said. “Some students don’t want to come to USC because of health concerns … some students have reduced financial aid and cannot afford their leases because of COVID-19’s effect on their family’s income … other students just don’t think it’s warranted to pay for leases that are upwards of $10,000 at large leasing companies that they will not use.”

In an interview with the Daily Trojan, Sen. Max Gomez, who co-sponsored the resolution along with Sen. Julian Lin, highlighted the public health implications for students who felt the need to return to campus because landlords and leasing companies would not allow them to terminate their lease agreements. 

“I’m sure you’ve heard of struggles with having too many roommates and dealing with COVID in a time like this,” Gomez said. “During normal times you sacrifice some privacy or getting kicked out of the room every once in a while [but now] you’re risking contamination from COVID.”

In an interview with the Daily Trojan, Perez said the main obstacle preventing the City Council from implementing a policy that would allow students to terminate their leases is the prospect of legal retaliation from landlords and leasing companies against the city.

“We’ve had meetings with city representatives and for the most part they are committed not just to helping students but tenants across Los Angeles,” Perez said. “The main barrier to this policy change … is the risk of lawsuit. If they were to lose these lawsuits it would create millions of dollars of losses for them.”

California state law gives landlords the prerogative to collect any unpaid rent, Perez said. Because of the power landlords and their leasing companies hold, Perez said he believes that the resolution could serve as a platform to engender meaningful student mobilization.

“The reason why I’m pursuing this resolution is not just to create support for students — although that is a reason we are going to vote on this — but rather, it is a process to create visibility on the issue so that it helps our advocacy work,” Perez said. “Ultimately we won’t convince legislators unless we make phone calls, people send emails, they go to council meetings and submit public comments — this resolution is the starting point to not only mobilize our students but other universities as well to really talk to L.A. City Council and say, ‘Hey, this is an issue that impacts us.’”

Next week, the resolution will be open for debate and amendments and will be voted on afterward.

Correction: The article misidentified Chris Perez’s position as Director for External Affairs. He is the Committee Chair for External Affairs. The Daily Trojan regrets the error.