In response to the continued spread of the coronavirus and uncertainty over when the pandemic may be controlled, the University of Michigan moved all classes for the spring and summer terms to remote learning. For Ann Arbor landlords and tenants, the University’s decision means significantly fewer students looking to sublet properties during the summer months.
Many students leave Ann Arbor and return home to live with their families or move elsewhere for internships over the summer. Because rental properties in Ann Arbor are typically leased on 12-month contracts, they are stuck paying rent for unused houses and apartments. To mitigate the financial burden of paying for an empty property, tenants look to sublet their properties to the few students who remain for spring and summer classes.
This year, however, those subletters may be hard to find. The University’s move to online courses for spring and summer effectively eliminates the need for the remaining enrolled students to be in Ann Arbor, shrinking the pool of people looking to sublet housing.
Rackham student Kamerhon Moses is a resident in the Vic Village apartment building. When the building announced that one of their residents had tested positive for COVID-19, Moses said he chose to leave.
“I decided it was probably best to just get out of there because, one, I have insurance that’s only for my state, so if I get sick, I’m kind of screwed if I’m in Michigan,” he said. “You never really take it too seriously until it starts affecting people around you, and once I heard somebody in the building was the second or third case in all of Michigan, I was like, ‘Wow, this is spreading fast and it’s probably not going to be great if I or anyone around me in my apartment gets sick.’”
Moses moved out of his apartment and returned home, but he still has to pay rent on his Vic Village apartment. He said he posted a listing for his apartment in several Facebook groups and utilized Vic Village’s sublet-assistance system but has yet to find someone to sublet his apartment.
“It hasn’t happened yet,” Moses said. “But I’m still holding on to hope because rent is pretty expensive.”
Moses attributed some of that trouble of finding a subletter to there being so few students left in Ann Arbor.
“It’s pretty hard to find a subletter when everybody’s leaving,” Moses said. “A lot of people kind of got — for a lack of a better word — screwed, because some people just don’t have resources. I’m definitely one of the lucky ones where I am able to at least go back and have someplace here, but it’s definitely affected the market.”
LSA sophomore Harrison George said he is also struggling to sublet his apartment for the summer.
“I have it through the summer, and I was planning on subleasing it,” George said. “I had a lot of interest from people before all of this happened, and then once they announced online classes, interest started to decline for everyone. All my friends who I know who have housing right now are amazed at how drastically quick people were interested in it and then just kind of faded away.”
While people had expressed interest in subletting his apartment, George said it is usually hard to sublet even without the effects of the coronavirus.
“Ann Arbor is a ghost town in the summer,” he said. “The only time you’re going to get someone to sublease is usually for spring term. And then July and August are just sunk costs. Like, you are not going to get anyone. That’s usually, in my experience, how it’s gone.”
Most University students are only enrolled in classes from September to April. During the 2018-2019 school year, enrollment dropped from around 45,000 students during the fall and winter semesters to an average of a little less than 4,000 students over spring and summer.
Students also expressed concerns about the greater effects of the pandemic going into the summer. Last week, Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer issued an executive order directing all non-essential businesses to shut down to slow the spread of the virus. However, with no clear end in sight, many are worried the restrictions could last much longer.
George said he thinks the stay-at-home order was the right call but is concerned about the economic effects.
“The stay-at-home order is going to make it even worse now because people are going to now move out of Ann Arbor even more,” George said.
LSA sophomore Trenten Ingell helped create a petition to Ann Arbor Mayor Christopher Taylor calling for the halting of all rent payments in light of the coronavirus outbreak. As of Wednesday night, the petition had more than 2,800 signatures.
“We wanted to represent both on- and off-campus housing situations and the issues that a lot of people are having with where they are living,” Ingell said of the petition. “Some people want to leave, and they still have to pay rent. We thought that was kind of — pardon my language, but — bullshit. In the dorms, people were being de facto evicted. They did not want it to look like an eviction but, I mean, it really was.”
Ingell lived in North Quad Residence Hall this year but moved out when the University made the decision to consolidate on-campus housing. Ingell said he recognized the difficulty of the University’s situation but said he feels the $1,200 reimbursement that the school is offering its residents is not enough.
“We ran through some of the numbers,” Ingell said. “We should really be paying, and get paid back, a little more than $3,000 just with our meal plan and housing based on the time that we would not be living in the dorms or taking advantage of the meal plan.”
On March 27, the University announced that students will receive dining credits for their unused meals and Dining Dollars that can be used when classes resume in-person instruction.
There remains a lot of uncertainty about what this summer holds for tenants in Ann Arbor. But amid all of the adjustments — returning home, adjusting to online classes, struggling to find a subletter — students said they feel like they need to remain positive. Moses said he appreciates the resources he has and is looking out for those who have less. He also said he is trying to prioritize productivity, noting that an outbreak of the plague sent Isaac Newton home from university in the 1660s. While in quarantine, Newton developed groundbreaking theories and mathematical concepts.
“He went home, and we all know about Newton now because of that summer,” Moses said. “Everybody should just stay productive and try to think about other people.”
John Grieve can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.