Petition circulates for April rent forgiveness in East Lansing following COVID-19 outbreak

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A petition requesting April ent forgiveness for East Lansing residents has 3,621 signatures as of April 4.

With the COVID-19 outbreak putting many out of a job and urging Michigan State University students to move home, community members are worried about how they will pay their rent.

In response to these worries Jessie Cohen, a junior journalism and comparative cultures and politics student at MSU, started a petition requesting April rent forgiveness in East Lansing. 

“With all MSU classes being moved online, and their (student) workplaces being shut down, MSU students have no reason to stay in East Lansing, and many have no income during this time,” the petition reads. “We are asking the property management companies of East Lansing to forgive April rent in recognition of their residents inability to work.” 

Cohen started the petition on March 24. Since then, the petition has gained 3,621signatures primarily through Facebook sharing. 

Cohen has moved out of her East Lansing apartment since classes transitioned to online, and her work as a swim instructor at Goldfish Swim School in Okemos has been cancelled due to COVID-19. Since she no longer resides in East Lansing and does not have a job to pay her rent, she decided to create the petition.

“The reason that you have an apartment (in East Lansing) is absolute. You have that apartment so you can attend classes in East Lansing and if there aren’t classes in East Lansing it doesn’t make any sense (to stay,)” Cohen said. “I think when 90% of the residents of these apartments have lost their jobs out to no fault of their own it’s really not fair to make them pay their rent.”

Ryan Jon, a December 2019 MSU graduate, lives in a student housing cooperative with 15 others. Jon said the rent is typically affordable, but since 12 of his 15 housemates have gotten laid off, he signed the petition knowing that many people are dealing with a financial crisis.

“It’s not even just for me, it’s for the knowledge that there’s so many people like my housemates who now have no source of income but still have to pay rent,” Jon said. “On top of that, they have schoolwork that they have to stress about.”

MSU sophomore Tanya Sharma lost her on-campus job due to the COVID-19 pandemic with no further compensation. She lived in an apartment on Abbott Road, but has since moved home to be with family. 

Sharma signed the petition in recognition of the stress the pandemic has put on people financially and emotionally.

“I currently have no income and most college students like me don’t really have that big of a savings that they can dive into,” Sharma said. “I know that I’m lucky that my parents can help me out, however not everybody is fortunate to have that situation so it wasn’t just for me that I was signing…It’s a lot of anxiety, so being close to home and with family is probably the best option for a lot of people.”

Others didn’t have much of a choice in moving back home. MSU junior business student Chris Paplin studied abroad in Barcelona over spring break . On the trip, one of his classmates contracted the COVID-19 virus, forcing all the students to quarantine. 

“If I’m not living at my apartment, I don’t think that it’s appropriate to be paying rent,” Paplin said. “Going off of that, it’s not even remotely possible to work or even get a job right now. My internship might be getting cancelled, so there’s definitely a lot of financial hardships.”

Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer signed an order on March 20 that temporarily suspends evictions until April 17 at 11:59 p.m. 

The order “allows tenants and mobile home owners to remain in their homes during the COVID-19 pandemic even if they are unable to stay current on their rent.”

Cohen said she plans on contacting several large East Lansing housing corporations once her petition reaches 2,500 signatures. She said that she will tell the corporations that students are prepared to take advantage of Whitmer’s order and not pay rent if they are financially unable to.

“Under Whitmer’s executive order right now no one can be evicted, so if we just don’t pay our rent there’s nothing they can do about it,” Cohen said. “I think that a lot of students don’t understand that and are scared not to pay because we’re terrified of getting bad credit and all that kind of stuff.”

Cohen said the only criticism she has received has been in regard to how rent forgiveness will affect the housing corporations.

Hagan Realty is one of the several property management companies in East Lansing. Hagan manages more than 200 houses and apartments in the East Lansing/MSU community. 

Matt Hagan, an agent for the company, said he and his coworkers have been communicating with tenants via phone and email about concerns over rent. 

“We’re going to be willing to work with our tenants as far as having them make payments whether it be late or in smaller amounts over time and not charging late fees,” Hagan said. “We’re just doing what we can do to facilitate that process for them.”

Students living in Michigan State University owned housing qualify for a $1,120 credit if they move out by 5 p.m. April 12. Hagan said since Hagan Realty works independently from the University, they don’t have an option to provide reimbursement like that.

“We’re going to be unfortunately a little bit different than the University in the fact that we are a private entity and still have mortgages to pay and taxes to pay,” Hagan said. “We don’t really have an ability to just refund or waive rent amounts that are due. Obviously, we are going to be willing to do everything we can to be flexible and work with people, but that might be slightly different than how the university has handled their housing on campus.”

DTN Management and Hudgins Realty were also contacted but did not respond in time for publication.  Hudgins Realty has created a webpage with information for its tenants regarding COVID-19.

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