Petition circulating for April rent rebate in East Lansing following COVID-19 outbreak

A petition asking for the April pardon for residents of East Lansing had 3,621 signatures as of April 4.

With the COVID-19 outbreak putting many people out of work and prompting Michigan State University students to relocate, community members are concerned about how they will pay their rent.

In response to these concerns, Jessie Cohen, a junior journalism and comparative cultures and politics student at MSU, started a petition calling for the April rent waiver in East Lansing.

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

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

Cohen has moved out of her East Lansing apartment since classes moved online, and her job as a swim instructor at Goldfish Swim School in Okemos has been canceled 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 you have an apartment (in East Lansing) is absolute. You have this apartment so you can take classes in East Lansing and if there are no classes in East Lansing it makes no sense (to stay),” Cohen said. “I think when 90% of the residents of these apartments have lost their jobs through no fault of their own, it’s really not fair to make them pay their rent.”

Ryan Jon, who graduated from MSU in December 2019, lives in a student housing co-op with 15 other people. Jon said the rent is generally affordable, but since 12 of his 15 roommates have been laid off, he signed the petition knowing that many people are facing financial crisis.

“It’s not even just for me, it’s to know that there are so many people like my roommates who no longer have a source of income but still have to pay rent,” Jon said. “On top of that, they have schoolwork they have to insist on.”

MSU sophomore Tanya Sharma lost her on-campus job due to the COVID-19 pandemic without further compensation. She lived in a flat on Abbott Road, but has since moved to be with her family.

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

“I don’t currently have any income and most students like me don’t really have such large savings to dive into,” Sharma said. “I know I’m lucky that my parents can help me, but not everyone is lucky enough to have this situation, so it wasn’t just for me that I was signing…C 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 had no real choice to return home. Chris Paplin, a junior business student at MSU, studied abroad in Barcelona during spring break. During the trip, one of his classmates contracted the COVID-19 virus, forcing all the students to self-quarantine.

“If I don’t live in my apartment, I don’t think it’s appropriate to pay rent,” Paplin said. “From there, it’s not even possible to work remotely or even find a job right now. My internship could be cancelled, so there are certainly a lot of financial difficulties.

Michigan Governor 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 up to date on their rent.”

Cohen said she plans to contact several major housing corporations in East Lansing once her petition reaches 2,500 signatures. She said she will tell businesses that students are willing to take advantage of Whitmer’s order and not pay rent if they are financially unable to do so.

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

Cohen said the only criticism she received was about how the rent discount would affect housing corporations.

Hagan Realty is one of many property management companies in East Lansing. Hagan manages over 200 homes and apartments in the East Lansing/MSU community.

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

“We’re going to be willing to work with our tenants to make payments, whether they’re late or in smaller amounts over time, and not charge late fees,” Hagan said. “We’re just doing what we can to make that process easier for them.”

Students living in Michigan State University-owned housing qualify for a $1,120 credit if they move out before 5 p.m. on April 12. Hagan said that since Hagan Realty works independently of the university, they don’t have the ability to provide a refund like that.

“We are unfortunately going to be a little different from the University in that we are a private entity and we still have mortgages to pay and taxes to pay,” Hagan said. “We don’t really have the option of simply reimbursing or waiving rent due. Obviously, we’re going to be willing to do whatever we can to be flexible and work with people, but that might be slightly different from how the university has handled their on-campus housing.

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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