U.Md. students plan protest over lease agreements during pandemic

University of Maryland College Park students will protest Tuesday against being bound to fall semester lease contracts for dorms they won’t live in out of coronavirus safety concerns.

Students citing health and safety have found themselves protesting an inability to terminate expensive lease agreements with Capstone On-Campus Management, which manages College Park’s two on-campus housing complexes, the South Campus Commons and Courtyards, The Diamondback reported.

“It sounds like it was scripted for TV — big corporations versus struggling students — but it’s real life for us,” read a description of the event, set to convene at 4 p.m. in a lot near The Courtyards. “They suggest we ‘re-lease,’ even though students are leaving campus housing like fleas jumping off of a dead dog.”

Their protest will be held as a car caravan, a protest tactic that has become popular in pandemic-age America as a way to air grievances while maintaining social distancing guidelines.

Nearly all of U.Md.’s classes are moving at least partially online amid a recent uptick in Maryland cases, according to an analysis from The Diamondback, with many students turning to off-campus housing as a safer alternative to dorms.

U.Md. senior Alyssa Shermer said South Campus Commons refused to dissolve her lease. Her sole option is to find someone to sublease her apartment, which might prove challenging with the majority of classes going virtual.

Shermer — who is among those organizing Tuesday’s protest — started a Change.org petition urging Commons and Courtyards “to consider the students who are being forced to pay for housing they no longer need or can’t use due to fear of contracting COVID-19.”

As of Tuesday morning, her petition has gathered over 2,100 signatures including from students who said they’ve found themselves in a similar predicament.

Students are now turning to the university’s administration and lawmakers for help. The Consumer Protection Division at the Maryland Attorney General’s Office had fielded over two dozen complains against Capstone with the majority being filed within the last week, The Diamondback reported.

In her petition, Shermer wrote she had also reached out to Gov. Larry Hogan but was awaiting his response.

The Maryland Economic Development Corporation, which owns one of the two apartment complexes, released a statement saying they would “assist students in transferring their leases to individuals who are interested in taking over their apartments.”

WTOP’s Andrea Cambron contributed to this report.

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Looking for more information? D.C., Maryland and Virginia are each releasing more data every day. Visit their official sites here: Virginia | Maryland | D.C.

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