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Students look to sublease over winter break due to delayed spring semester start

With winter break approaching, questions rise about the nature of winter subleases during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Students’ off-campus residences may be sitting empty for nearly two months due to the University’s extended winter break, since the spring semester’s start date has been pushed back to mid-January. 

Because of the prolonged break, some students are trying to sublease their unused rooms from the end of the fall semester in November until the spring semester’s start date in mid-January to offset the cost of rent. 

Noor El-Baradie, a sophomore economics and political science major living in an off-campus house, said she and her housemates are trying to sublease their entire house over winter break, as well as summer 2021. 

She said when they signed their lease last year, they weren’t anticipating having to pay for an empty house for this long.

“Three weeks, we could justify that,” she said. “But six to seven weeks is really hard to make that financial investment in the space you’re not even going to live in.”

Veronica Ortiz, a junior majoring in biology, said she is living in a Carrboro apartment complex and facing a similar dilemma. She said the process has been extremely stressful because there are fewer students in the area right now. 

“There's not as many students on campus that are probably going to be looking for housing, just because a lot of them did go home,” she said.

Ortiz said she successfully sublet her room over the summer but wants to make sure that her roommates, who will be in the apartment over the break, aren’t put at risk.

Audrey Kayser, a junior majoring in public policy, is one of Ortiz’s roommates. She said that in past experiences with subleasing, people had different levels of caution. 

“We had an exposure scare ... and we all had to get tested and quarantine,” she said. “It’s a different element of concern.”

El-Baradie said the process of finding tenants has been difficult, because many students who had to leave Chapel Hill during the fall semester are looking for spring housing. 

Although her post in the UNC-Chapel Hill subleasing Facebook group specified that the house was only available from the end of November to mid-January, she said she had more than 40 respondents expecting spring accommodations.

“I think everyone's really panicked, especially people who lived in the dorms — they really want to get back to campus,” El-Baradie said. “Everyone's looking for spring.”

Tristan Routh, a staff attorney for Carolina Student Legal Services, said he isn’t used to seeing many students plan to sublease over break. 

“I think it's going to be difficult to find people that want to sublease for just two months when there's no school going on in the middle of the sort of, wintertime break,” he said. “Practically, I could see perhaps some landlords being slightly more reluctant to let people lease or sublease because they don't want a bunch of different people coming in and out of their apartment complex.”

Some students are also struggling financially to justify added rent costs over the prolonged break. 

“I don't want to be paying two months’ worth of rent if I’m not living here,” Ortiz said. “Instead of one month of rent, I'm having to worry about two months, just because the school extended our break more.”

University spokesperson Jeni Cook said in an email that the University has a number of resources in place for students facing financial difficulties because of COVID-19, which can be found on the Keep Learning website

“We recognize that many students face hardships due to the COVID-19 pandemic,” Cook said. “Because of that, emergency funds are available to students through various resources including the Carolina Student Impact Fund, the student portion of CARES Act funding from the U.S. Department of Education and the Office of the Dean of Students Emergency Fund.”

Routh said students must make sure their lease allows for subleasing contracts if they are considering that for over the break. He suggested consulting Carolina Student Legal Services to work out any concerns, especially because the pandemic has no effect on lease obligations.

“You will benefit from a written agreement with the individual that you're subleasing to so that everybody has, in writing, what their obligations are,” Routh said. “The bottom line is, before you go and sublease or relet, you need to know what your lease says about that option.”

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