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'We want to be safe' UMD students say they're forced to pay for on campus apartments despite COVID-19 concerns

Posted at 11:31 PM, Aug 19, 2020

ANNAPOLIS, Md. — University of Maryland college students held a car caravan protest Wednesday in Annapolis, demanding two on-campus apartment complexes let them out their leases, citing the school’s decision to have classes mostly online and their concerns over COVID-19.

“People not profit” and “we want out” were among the messages on signs at the protest as cars drove from the city docks in Annapolis to the statehouse, honking their horns in hopes to raise attention to the issue.

“We don’t want to accept the risk of death due to the coronavirus,” said UMD senior Hannah Aalemansour. “We want to be safe.”

Aalemansour said the two on-campus apartments, which are privately owned, are called South Campus Commons and Courtyards. She said management is forcing them to pay thousands of dollars for housing they don’t plan to use.

“A lot of us do not have any in-person classes, so we are really sitting in an apartment on the computer for the whole semester and a lot of us will be living with random roommates. We don’t know how they will be behaving during the pandemic,” she said.

Emma Denlinger said the only reason she was able to get out of her lease was because someone was willing to take it over. She said she’s worried about the other students who couldn’t.

“Last semester they let us out of our leases. The conditions were pretty much the same as they are now,” she said. “With a group of students living in the same apartment building it’s going to spread like wildfire on a college campus.”

Aalemansour and other students have been fighting for this issue for more than a month, but she said the management at the apartment complexes won’t budge.

South Campus Commons and Courtyards are managed by a company named Capstone. The Maryland Economic Development Corporation owns the properties and sent a statement on both of their behalf.

“On behalf of the Maryland Economic Development Corporation (MEDCO), the owner of student housing facilities on serval Maryland campuses and Capstone On-Campus Management (COCM) is providing the following statement:

Given certain Universities recent decision to move to a predominantly on-line method of teaching for fall 2020, COCM as the third-party management company has received an increase in requests for lease cancellations. MEDCO is unable to release students due to its obligations to bond holders, vendors and other entities, as well as not being eligible for any of the federal relief programs currently available. While MEDCO understands some students may choose to depart from the community while continuing their studies, the housing facilities remain open and fully operational, continuing to support those who remain.”

Aalemansour said she and other students won’t give up. She said they have exhausted almost all of their options. She’s hoping state lawmakers and the governor steps in.

"It’s all connected,” she said. “It’s a public university and they’re asking us to pay upwards to $12,000 a year to risk our lives and we don’t want to do that.”