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Housing hiccups: BYU begins arbitrations between students, landlords

Arbitrations are beginning for COVID-19-related housing disputes between BYU students and landlords. (PHOTO: BYU/Twitter)

PROVO, Utah — Arbitration hearings are beginning for BYU students and landlords who disagree on how much rent is owed because of the coronavirus pandemic.

Two sides to the housing story

The BYU Center for Peace and Conflict Resolution is conducting the arbitration hearings. A retired third-party judge will oversee the hearings, which will be legally binding.

The center hired the judge because they expect some cases to be overly contentious, according to the center’s director. Additionally, the decisions will rely on interpretation.

There’s a provision of the housing contact that’s really the key legal issue that talks about catastrophic loss. Most of the tenants are saying this is catastrophic loss and a lot of the landlords are saying it’s not,” – Benjamin Cook, director of the BYU Center for Peace and Conflict Resolution.  

Siding with students

Provo Mayor Michelle Kaufusi and BYU administration are encouraging landlords to release students from their housing contracts. Yet, they are leaving the final decisions between students and the property owners.

“The city can’t modify these contracts, but we can encourage things from the sidelines. In that spirit, I hope that landlords who are in a financial position to do so will factor compassion into their decision-making,” Kaufusi said in a prior statement. “I hope students and parents will be courteous and cooperative in trying to work through these issues.”

BYU spokeswoman Carri Jenkins echoed similar sentiments in another statement.

“In the event of a COVID-19 outbreak, landlords would be required to follow health department guidelines for providing a safe space for students to either be isolated or quarantined.”

According to the Deseret News, the center typically conducts about 180 mediations a year, but they’ve received around 200 requests related to COVID-19 in just the past few weeks.

Those involved are conducting the mediations and arbitrations via Zoom video calls. At this point, they’ve done about two dozens mediations per week since March 25.

The arbitrator’s decisions will post to the center’s website in the coming week.