The operator of an off-campus student housing complex near the University of Central Florida (UCF) has refused to issue refunds to students forced to move home amid the COVID-19 pandemic, according to a proposed class action.
The suit alleges defendant Preferred Apartment Communities, Inc. (PAC) has improperly retained all funds paid by tenants—and continues to demand money from those who pay month-to-month—for room, board, and other services it cannot safely provide.
According to the lawsuit, PAC is an investment company that offers student housing in several locations across Florida. One such location, the case says, is at The Retreat, a “preferred student living community” in Orlando designed to reflect university-run dormitories. Per the suit, the housing complex offers amenities “specifically geared” to college students, including onsite resident life programs, a clubhouse with social events, a fitness center, a technology center, multiple sporting activity courts, a sauna, a club room complete with pool tables and a coffee bar, and a golf simulator, all while maintaining close ties with nearby UCF.
On March 12, 2020, the defendant advised in a letter to student residents that all fitness centers and inside amenity spaces would be closed and that only emergency maintenance services would be performed in occupied units “for the foreseeable future,” the lawsuit relays. In another letter, sent March 18, the defendant recognized that social distancing is the best method to slow the spread of the coronavirus and advised students that The Retreat’s community office would be closed to in-person traffic, the suit says.
According to the complaint, the plaintiff co-signed her daughter’s lease for a room at The Retreat for the Fall 2019-Summer 2020 academic school year. Although her daughter, a UCF student, was forced to move back home in March when the university ceased in-person classes and encouraged students not to return to campus, the defendant continued to collect the plaintiff’s monthly rent installments for March, April, May and June, the case claims.
The lawsuit stresses that UCF, for its part, approved a plan to offer housing refunds to students for the period between March 27 and April 28, 2020. In a March 31 letter, the university apprised all off-campus student housing managers of the shift to online classes and requested that apartment and housing managers consider granting early lease terminations.
According to the suit, however, the defendant has refused to return any portion of rent or other fees even though dormitories “cannot safely be occupied” and the bargained-for services promised at The Retreat have not been provided. In a letter issued March 26, PAC stated that although it is “aware of the impact the pandemic is having on all aspects of everyone’s lives” and is “sympathetic to this situation and the hardship that this pandemic has caused,” the company is unable to change the terms of its leases. As the lawsuit puts it, PAC has taken a position contrary to that of Florida and UCF authorities in choosing to retain rent-payers’ money. From the suit:
“Defendant’s demand for payment and refusal to provide partial refunds defies equity, common sense and is in diametrical opposition to the Governor and President’s directives concerning the dangers of staying in their facilities.”
The case looks to cover anyone who paid rent and fees for and on behalf of students residing in Preferred Apartment Communities’ Florida “campus living” complexes for the Spring and Summer 2020 semesters who moved out prior to the end of the semester due to school closures related to COVID-19.
ClassAction.org’s coverage of COVID-19 litigation can be found here and over on our Newswire.