Is Your Landlord Forcing You to Pay?
We are currently in the midst of a pandemic and state of emergency in Idaho. BYU-I has cancelled in-person classes for Spring 2020. Meanwhile, landlords are still asking students to pay for Spring 2020 leases.
The Relevant Contract Term
It is my understanding that BYU-I has all student housing landlords apply the same contract (link). The language of this contract can be found here: https://www2.byui.edu/housing-documents/housing-web/interactive-housing-contract-2019.html
The key provision is in Paragraph 7, which reads:
… this Contract may be terminated for the following reasons upon the agreement of both parties: (1) Unforeseeable and unexpected catastrophic event…
While I have not confirmed this, the word on the grapevine is that landlords believe they can prevent termination of the agreement as long as they do not agree that this pandemic is an unforeseeable and unexpected catastrophic event.
Is Covid-19 an “Unforeseeable and unexpected catastrophic event”?
In the state of Idaho, Governor Little has declared:
There exists a condition of extreme peril to the safety of persons and property within the State of Idaho caused by the increasing presence of the 2019 novel coronavirus (COVID-19), which, by reason of its magnitude, is beyond the control of the services, personnel, equipment and facilities of any city or county. Accordingly, I find that there exists an extreme emergency within the State of Idaho.See Declaration: https://gov.idaho.gov/pressrelease/governor-little-issues-statewide-stay-home-order-signs-extreme-emergency-declaration/
Based on this proclamation and the current pandemic, I do not believe Idaho landlords can fairly withhold agreement that the pandemic is not an “unforeseeable and unexpected catastrophic event.”
What Should You Do?
If you wish to terminate the contract based on this provision, you should notify your landlord as soon as possible in writing. Personally delivering the letter to your landlord’s office or by certified mail is a good idea.
This can be as simple as stating: Dear Landlord, Pursuant to Paragraph 7 of the lease agreement, I am requesting termination of the lease due to the ongoing pandemic.
If neither you nor your landlord wish to terminate your contract, you don’t have to.
What if the Landlord disagrees?
Landlords will act in anyway they see fit. They may charge you and attempt to collect on those charges. So at some point the issue will have to be determined in court or in another tribunal.
Shouldn’t I honor my word in the contract?
All contracts in Idaho include an implied covenant of good faith and fair dealing. Just as it sounds, this means that each party to the contract must be reasonable and fair to one another. Thus, you should only ask to cancel the contract if the contract allows it and if you believe in good faith that you have the contractual right to cancel. If you meet these conditions, you are in compliance with what you promised in your lease agreement.
On the other hand, in my view, there is no valid basis to deny that this pandemic is a valid reason to seek termination. If a landlord makes this denial, it is my opinion that the landlord has failed to comply with the implied covenant of good faith and fair dealing.
The landlords obviously knew that this provision was in the contract. If they did not like it, they could have sought to have it removed or obtained insurance to protect against lost rental revenue should they encounter a catastrophic event as contemplated in the contract.
What if I already paid or signed something?
If you feel that the landlord made any misleading statements to induce you to comply with their demands for payment or that you agreed to anything under duress, you may be able to unwind that agreement or it may be void to begin with. Whether you can undo this is a fact dependent situation and must be evaluated on a case-by-case basis.
Should I get an attorney to help me?
If you want legal assistance, I am currently assisting BYU-I Spring 2020 students on a pro-bono basis (to the extent I can). This means that I am not charging you a fee. If you are interest in representation, please contact me by email: Leland@LelandFaux.com. You can also schedule a free telephone consultation by visiting https://lelandfaux.setmore.com/ .
You may also wish to contact the Idaho Attorney General’s office and submit a complaint.
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