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COVID-19: Can College Students Terminate Apartment Leases?

In this episode, students from the UC Riverside School of Public Policy talk with public policy student Sana Jaffery, real estate lawyer Scott Talkov, and Fair Housing of Riverside County program manager Nathan Cieszynski about options and resources for students who wish to terminate their leases due to COVID-19. 


SEPTEMBER 11, 2020

In this episode, students from the UC Riverside School of Public Policy talk with public policy student Sana Jaffery, real estate lawyer Scott Talkov, and Fair Housing of Riverside County program manager Nathan Cieszynski about options and resources for students who wish to terminate their leases due to COVID-19.

About Sana Jaffery: Sana Jaffery recently found herself facing a housing issue, only to find out hundreds of students dealing with the same crisis.  Jaffery had previously spoken about this issue on NBC4 News.

About Scott Talkov: Scott Talkov is a real estate, business and bankruptcy litigation lawyer in Riverside, California and former partner at one of the Inland Empire’s oldest law firms.

Learn more about Scott Talkov via

About Nathan Cieszynski: A HUD certified housing counselor, Nathan Cieszynski is a program manager and counselor at the Fair Housing Council of Riverside County.

Learn more about Nathan Cieszynski via

Podcast Highlights:

“The landlord wants your money. You already have your money. So every time you pay them, the landlord has won."

-       Scott Talkov on the topic of understanding your position of power as a tenant. 

“The city of Riverside has a program for rent relief and what it's set up to do is, is to bring you current on your rent.”

-        Nathan Cieszynski on the topic of utilizing government programs, if you would like to or must remain in your apartment lease.


Sana Jaffery (UCR Public Policy Major)

Scott Talkov (Real Estate, Business, and Bankruptcy Litigation Lawyer, Talkov Law Corp.)

Nathan Cieszynski (Program Manager and Counselor, Fair Housing Council of Riverside County)


Maddie Bunting (UCR Public Policy Major, Dean’s Chief Ambassador)

Genevieve Chacon (UCR Public Policy Major, Dean’s Ambassador)

Music by:

Samuel Roberts (UCR Public Policy ‘20)

This is a production of the UCR School of Public Policy:


UC Riverside Legal Clinic

Talkov Law

12 Tricks to Terminate a Student Lease at UCR due to Coronavirus Force Majeure

Lease Termination Letter Template

Fair Housing Council of Riverside County

Rental Assistance Program

FHCRC Phone Number: 1-951-682-6581


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Learn more about the series and other episodes via


  • COVID-19: Can College Students Terminate Apartment Leases?

    Introduction: Welcome to the official podcast of the University of California, Riverside School of Public Policy. I'm your host, Maddie Bunting. Throughout this podcast series, I will be talking with various voices in the public policy world about today's pressing societal issues. Join me to learn about potential solutions and interventions for today's biggest policy challenges; By they about health, the economy, the environment, or other societal problems impacting families in your community or the international community. In today's episode, we discussed how financial hardships and remote learning due to COVID-19 has caused students to lose income and many to move back home. Unfortunately, many students signed housing contracts before this pandemic hit and are now struggling to terminate their leases. Sana Jaffery shares her personal experiences, while Scott Talkov and Nathan Cieszynski offer various options and resources. 


    Maddie Bunting: Sana, thank you so much for joining us. I really appreciate you taking the time and bringing this topic to us, and just all your advocacy with this topic and I know you are going to continue that work, which is so impressive given that you are entering your second year at the University of California, Riverside and you are a fellow public policy major. You are one of so many students going through this struggle right now. In fact, 70% of UC Riverside students live off campus. You know, this is an issue that crosses states since it's a national issue. But for one school, that's a pretty large number of students who are probably affected by this issue and going through something similar to what you have been experiencing. So, given that you are a student experiencing this issue, can you let us in on your experiences in the past few months, what it's been like, any struggles you've encountered, and kind of what your plan is moving forward? 


    Sana Jaffery: Yes. So, most students sign their leases pretty early on, as early as January and February, to make sure they had their leases set, they had housing secured for the upcoming academic year. You know, most of us thought this was just the responsible, the reasonable thing to do at the time. But once COVID hit, we realized, oh hey, you know, in-person classes are now suspended. Fast forward another month or two, we realized by the time the next academic year starts, we may be still online. At that point, there's no longer a need for most of these students to remain off campus— close to campus really. Personally, I'm up in the Bay. There is no reason for me to be renting an apartment 400 miles away. Unfortunately, when I did make the calls to cancel my lease, I was told that that's not possible unless I, A) Pay a termination fee and B) find a replacement tenant. Unfortunately, because classes are online for nearly everyone at UCR, it is very difficult to find a replacement tenant who happens to be a student. Unfortunately, because these are student-centered off campus apartments, they do require the tenants to be students. 


    Maddie Bunting: Right? It's, you know, you're a student trying to leave. Most students are probably like you, who's going to fill your spot? 


    Sana Jaffery: So at this point, I started trying to figure out, okay, how many other people are in the same boat? And I learned, you know, it's over 200 students that I've been in contact with alone.


    Maddie Bunting: Wow.


    Sana Jaffery: So, you know the numbers. That's the minimum. That's a really conservative estimate that we're looking at. At that point I made a plan: Hey, let me talk to city officials, let me talk to county officials, as well as UCR officials. So, we got some really positive responses from a few city council members who were then able to sort of look into the situation, help out the students who were more troubled by the situation than others, you know, the students who are in a more urgent situation. And we were able to sort of look into negotiations from that point. But, for the 100 other students who were unable to get out of their leases, it's a much more complicated situation. We had ongoing negotiations between a few city council members and these apartment managers. So, these negotiations were not really fruitful in my opinion. We had over two weeks of negotiations and the only thing we got to was: Students can negotiate, but they must come to us on a case by case basis. I, as a student, I'm not equipped to negotiate with these large companies. You know, they have a large legal team. I'm a student. I have no legal education. I have no legal background and I don't have access to a legal team. I'm already at a disadvantage here. So, even if I do manage to find a lawyer, I'm paying out of pocket to negotiate for a lease that I really don't need. 


    Genevieve Chacon: And [you] can't afford either. 


    Sana Jaffery: Right? I'm in a situation where I'm lucky enough that this only hurts, but it's devastating for some families, especially the students who were employed on campus, they no longer have access to those wages. So, it's a really devastating situation. We recently began talking with UCR, a couple of the Vice Chancellors, and we're working on putting together some resources for students to actually be able to negotiate on their own. We're talking with legal counsel over at UCR and then a couple of outside options as well. 


    Genevieve Chacon: Well, you've done such impressive work so far. You've managed to talk to these city officials and these chancellors, not many students have the hope of even doing that. They just either suck it up or pay those legal attorney fees. So, the fact that you are fighting for all these students is fantastic.


    Sana Jaffery: I'm grateful for the opportunity, I'm grateful for the resources around me. The fact that I was able to put this together in such a short amount of time. It's a big deal. 


    Genevieve Chacon: And you even have your own Student Spotlight coming up where you go into more detail of what you did. 


    Sana Jaffery: Yeah, and the Spotlight! I'm so grateful for the opportunity, this Spotlight, I'll be able to talk about sort of the background of rent as a whole, landlord tenant relations, what this has to do with college students, and how the framing of this problem has changed since COVID-19 has hit. Yeah, I'm super excited to just talk to people. It's a really important issue and I think every student deserves to, you know, sort of learn from this. 


    Commercial, Genevieve Chacon: Join us for the Summer 2020 installment of the UCR School of Public Policy Student Spotlight series. On Thursday, September 17th, at 1:30 pm when public policy student, Sana Jaffery, talks about “UCRent: Renters Rights”. RSVP now via You can also find the link in our show notes. 


    Maddie Bunting: After hearing about Sana’s experience, we decided to speak with Scott Talkov, a lawyer, to understand this situation through the eyes of the law. Mr. Talkov, thank you so much for joining us today. We really appreciate it. You are the founder of Talkov Law and you practice real estate, business, and civil and bankruptcy litigation. Many students, not only in Riverside, but across the nation live off campus and often rent and lease apartments and houses for the academic school year. Due to COVID-19, many, as I just mentioned, want out of their contracts. Can you explain legally what tenants agree to when they sign a contract and does being a student affect the terms of any contract? 


    Scott Talkov: Sure. Well, by entering into a contract, you agree to be bound by the laws of contract. Now, you may think that I signed something that means I owe it. Well, there's also defenses to contracts. So, a couple that have really come to mind recently, I think, when people talk about force majeure, it's an interesting concept, but something called the frustration of purpose. So, the classic example is you rent a place to watch it parade and the parade is cancelled. Well, you don't need it anymore and you may not even have to pay for that lease or that rent for the day. The same thing is going on by UC Riverside and a lot of other college campuses. And it really depends whether your landlord held themselves out, in my opinion, as in any way related to that college. So, if you look at a lot of the places right near UC Riverside, you'll see on their advertisements, on their websites: “We are only open to UCR students”. Not only have they said this is really convenient, but they've said, you must fit this criteria. And they even say, well, “We're right next to the campus! You're going to love what a short distance to campus it is”. Well, it's not a short distance to campus, there is no campus anymore. My house, back at my parents house, was the same distance. I don't need to be here! So, you're accepting all of the possible defenses by signing that contract. Now, I've done a little bit of research and I happened upon a little bit of theory in these cases that is real beneficial to students... I don't think these companies ever file lawsuits. I've done lots of homework. I have in my blog post at, click on the blog and look up the article titled, “12 tricks to terminate a student lease at UCR due to Coronavirus” force majeure. You will see my research that there are probably 100 cases that I found on the Riverside County Superior Court website. Many of them are very recent. And every single one of them, I did a little sample of ten. I only have so much time in the day, but I found every single one of the ten cases was an unlawful detainer. Now, an unlawful detainer is when you are in possession and the landlord wants possession back. If you never take the keys and you never take possession, you're not going to fit in that category. You're going to fit in the standard, just reached a lease and they want their money because they couldn't find another tenant. They've never sued. At least nothing I've ever found. Maybe they have. But it's so rare. Now, if they didn't sue during normal times, what are they going to do when you have all of these defenses?


    Maddie Bunting: Right? 


    Scott Talkov: Probably nothing. Ok. Now, there is another issue. The most common defense to a breach of a lease is mitigation of damages. So you will say, hey, you could have found a tenant, you should have used reasonable measures to find a replacement tenant. Well, if you look very closely at the leases, at least the ones I've seen, they don't say, “Joe Student, you are being given Unit 101”. They just say we will find you a unit. So, if they don't give you Unit 101 and you didn't agree to take Unit 101, how will they ever prove that they didn't find someone for Unit 101? You could just say, well, the next person that walked in that signed a new lease, they signed by unit. I think that this would never come to pass. There's really only two other ramifications I can think of— well, let's say three. One: is the one we talked about, legal. They're going to get a judgment. They're going to record their judgment. They're gonna levy on my bank account. I don't think it's really gonna happen. Maybe it'll happen. Who knows? Probably not. Second is sending you to collections. What does that even mean? Just means that they're having somebody call over and over and over. Okay. Go ahead and have them call. The third one is a ding on your credit and a negative report on your credit. I haven't been able to find anybody who's reported to me any negative credit report from breaching a lease. 


    Maddie Bunting: Really?

    Scott Talkov: No one! I don't know who these people are. I've been on numerous conference calls with groups at UC Riverside that's trying to solve this with the campus counsel and a number of other people. The Campus Ombuds, who's also a California attorney. And no one knows anyone this has ever happened to. So, you go down the list. These are the three things, none of these are ever going to happen. Now, you're down to the fourth thing, moral obligation. Well, I think the reason students are listening to this is they don't think they owe the money. So, just because somebody says you owe money doesn't mean you owe it! I hear a lot of students say, you know, they want to win this negotiation, they want to get what they want out of it. And I would tell them, what they want is what they already have. Okay. The Landlord wants your money. You already have your money. Okay? So every time you issue an online payment or do whatever you need to do and you pay them. The landlord has won! So, you don't need to do anything. Tell them, send them a letter, saying, “I will not be moving in, I will not be paying”, and it's now the landlord's job to get the money out of you. They claim they’re owed, you claim it’s not owed. So, the students are in a great position. They're the ones with the money and the landlords are with the one with the apartment that isn't— well, I don't wanna say nobody wants, but very few people want. So, they're actually pretty lucky, but [students] just need to learn that just because somebody asks you for something doesn't mean you have to say yes. And if there's some reason, some justifiable reason to say no, you're allowed to say no. And there's also a lot of student legal clinics. UC Riverside has one through the Associated Students, where I used to be a student senator. I enjoyed it quite a bit. And, you know, a lot of the campuses from the UCs, the Cal States, to colleges nationwide have a student legal clinic. There are attorneys to answer questions. So, Google your university and see if they have one and see if there's an attorney there to give you some quick advice to point you in the right direction. 


    Genevieve Chacon: But can you explain more on the steps that students can do at UC Riverside to terminate their contracts or leases?


    Scott Talkov: I have a little draft email that I made up on my blog post at and it says, “Dear Landlord, please accept this notice of termination that you allege I'm bound to perform despite the Coronavirus pandemic occurring after the date of our lease”. And it goes into some of the defenses I've talked about. And it says that, “You haven't shown me that this place is going to be safe. This seems to be contrary to the idea of social distancing to be living in compact student housing. What is the proof that I'm not going to be suffering a personal injury by moving into your apartment complex? And you also have a duty to mitigate your damages. Again, I reiterate that it's unclear how you'd ever prove that you attempted to mitigate your damage given that you never assigned me a particular unit. So, how do we know whether that unit was ever leased or not leased”. I also point out that students have one particular level of power. You have the power to go on online reviews! You can tell them I have found 12 different places with reviews about you. I will leave my review on every single one of these if you send or I get a call from any collection company, if I receive any summons in a lawsuit, or if I've received any further communication from you about this property. Say something like that. Say there’s no reason to write me back. And you don't have to be that aggressive if you don't want to. But let them know! You've got power. You are letting people who are future residents of these properties know this place is really aggressive. They don't seem to care about anything. I offered them two or three months rent. They didn't want it. They want the whole kit-and-caboodle. Now you gotta think about it from their perspective. Ok, let's suppose they've got a 100 students staying there, 80 of which are all angry they don't want to be paying this kinda money. They want to live near campus. Out of those 80 students, if they just stand strong and say “You'd better pay me!” they might collect from, I don't know, half of them in full, maybe 80% of them in full. Ok. Why would they want to take a few months' rent from everybody? They don't want that. They’re gonna make more money by people who are scared and who don't realize that probably nothing's going to happen. 


    Maddie Bunting: We thought to speak with Nathan Cieszynski of the Fair Housing Council of Riverside County to continue our conversation regarding options and resources for students. So Mr. Cieszynski, you are a program manager at the Fair Housing Council of Riverside County. The Council's mission is to provide comprehensive services which affirmatively address and promote fair housing, anti-discrimination rights, and other housing opportunities for all people. 


    Nathan Cieszynski: Absolutely, yes. 


    Maddie Bunting: And that's a wonderful mission, proving itself right now with this issue. And due to COVID-19, I've heard a lot about eviction moratoriums that had been enacted specifically in California. But for students who necessarily, you know, some of them do want out of their rents and leases, but some may have nowhere else to go, but perhaps they did lose a job or wages. So, is there a rent relief option available to students? What are their options?


    Nathan Cieszynski: Okay. In terms of if they are staying in the unit that they lost their income, then the rental eviction moratorium at the state level would absolutely protect them. They simply need to advise the landlord that they are unable to pay their rent due to the COVID-19, because it must be related to COVID-19.


    Maddie Bunting: Interesting. So, let's say six months pass and they don't have to pay it in the moment. Do they have to pay that large sum all at once, or will they add it on maybe every month? 


    Nathan Cieszynski: This is still yet to be completely determined. The way that it was explained in the way that the original rent moratoriums for all of the different counties was set up is they would have six months to become current. They'd have to start paying their rent and they'd have six months to spread it out. The problem that we see at the Fair Housing Council of Riverside County with that is, if you can't pay your rent now, the moratorium gets lifted. Maybe you go back to work, maybe you don't, because again, not all jobs that people had are available, but now you have to pay your rent. If you then put on top of that, having to catch up on, say for example, six months rent, when you start adding all that on there, it's going to become very unaffordable. Originally, the idea was it was only going to be for three months and then you'd have three months to catch up. And even for students, non students, that was still going to be a problem. But it's not insurmountable. Now, the one thing in addition to that, let's say, because they do reside in the city of Riverside, has a program for rental rent relief. And what it's set up to do is to bring you current on your rent and the Fair Housing Council of Riverside County is actually managing that program. So, as long as you reside in the city, not county, in the city of Riverside, and you fell behind due to COVIS-19 and you can prove that, when you're ready, when the students are ready, they can apply for the funds and those funds are paid directly to the landlord. They're not paid to the student, they're paid to the landlord to bring them current. So, there is that for those students that are going to be remaining in those properties. So, there is help. 


    Maddie Bunting: Wow, and is there an idea of how many students it’ll be able to help with that? Will it vary? 


    Nathan Cieszynski: Well, because it's for the whole city, it's a first come first serve. And I don't have the exact dollar amount that's available currently. But, I know it was in the neighborhood of between $2.5-3 million, and that is for assistance in the City of Riverside. But like I said, it's first come first serve. Once a complete package is received, and you can go onto our website to find out what's needed, once a complete package is received, that puts you in line for it. And that's what we consider first come first serve: It’s first come with a complete package. Because as you know, some people don't get complete packages in on time. 


    Maddie Bunting: Right. Okay, and they can find that at your website. So, we will definitely link that in our show notes for resources for our listeners to go there and see if they apply and if they can complete that package. 


    Nathan Cieszynski: And again, like I said, the rent moratorium that was signed in on Monday may make it so that people want to hold off a little bit longer because you can only apply once. So that's the other key there. So, it's trying to find that balance of when do you apply and realizing that you can only do it one time. So, that's something else to keep in mind. Before the moratorium was re-signed by the state legislation and the governor, all the moratorium had been lifted. So, we were expecting everything to start pouring in immediately. But with this new moratorium, it takes you actually all the way out to December right now. 

    Genevieve Chacon: We have a lot of students who are from the Bay Area, from other parts of California, and even out of the state. Do you know anything that can help students policy wise?


    Nathan Cieszynski: In terms of they don't want to move into the residences or they need to vacate? When you're looking at the pandemic on a statewide basis, or even on a national level basis, unfortunately, the student housing issue is not at the top of the list of legislation. We had been working with local officials, with state officials attempting to find a workaround that is good for both the students and the property owners. There is always the option to just walk away and say, okay, take your best shot. I just don't think that's the best way to go. My background before getting into fair housing was in mortgage lending. So, I know the effects of credit. Small mistakes that you make today are definitely going to impact you for the future. But really no, there's not a lot that's currently available. The most that can be done is to try and work with these landlords, see if you can't get them to let you out of the lease. They don't seem to be very willing to do that from everything that I've heard. Their leases are full of a lot of language that if it went to court, it probably wouldn't stand up. So, there are requirements that are written in there because, like a lawyer told me, you can put anything in a contract. But the bottom line is, unless you take it to court, unless the student or their parents take that housing provider to court, they still have that obligation because they signed a lease. 


    Maddie Bunting: And it's so difficult because I myself as a college student, I've heard of credit, but it's not a reality necessarily for me yet or it's not something that is on my mind. But I know it's on my parent's mind and just bringing up that, oh, if they co-sign, which is very, very common, you're hurting them as well. And I think students, it's a whole world between the legal jargon and contracts and maybe not knowing the red flags of some of their actions or the consequences. You just feel like they're kind of in a bind. 


    Nathan Cieszynski: Well, you've brought up a really interesting point and it's something that I think is worth revisiting. You said as a college student, credits not really on your mind. But you're at that age and the students are at that age where credit should be on your mind. Because what you do today is absolutely going to affect your future up to and including employment opportunities. And this is something a lot of people don't realize, particularly students that are still in school. They think, okay, well I have to do is go to school, get a degree, and I'm gonna go get a great job. But one of the qualifications for a lot of jobs is they run your credit. So you might have the grades, you might even have the experience, you might have everything else along with a whole bunch of other people. And so the determining factor may be the credit because the way that they look at it, right or wrong, and there's a lot of arguments one way or the other. But the way they look at it is, if you can't manage your credit, what type of worker are you going to be? Will you be able to manage your time, will you be able to manage your work? So, even though it's not technically a direct reflection of your qualifications or abilities it does go towards showing a picture of who you are. And these mistakes that you make in younger years, believe it or not, are harder to work off than if you made the same mistakes in your fifties or sixties. For some reason, you can repair your credit a lot faster in your fifties and sixties than you can in your twenties and thirties. It's just the way the algorithms are written. So everything that I do, it's not technically a fair housing issue, and yet to me, it's all fair housing; Because it's all about making sure that people have access to housing and credit is an extremely big point in that axis. The last thing I just want to add is, if any of your students do need assistance or they're running into problems, they can always give our office a call. Because while they said there's not a lot of options, we can still walk them through it. We can explain to them what they are. We can even review some leases because quite frankly, some of the leases, they're not discriminatory in nature, but they can have a discriminatory effect. So that may be a way that we can help. So, if they do have issues, please feel free to give our office a call. 


    Maddie Bunting: Wonderful. And again, that will be in the show notes, a link to your website and it will include a phone number as well. I think this is a wonderful resource and I think our listeners should take you up on that offer. Thank you so much!


    Nathan Cieszynski: My pleasure. Thank you for having me. 


    Outro: This podcast is a production of the UC Riverside School of Public Policy. I'm Maddie Bunting, ‘til next time.


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