UHD extends deadline to cancel housing contracts as students leave dorms

Multiple students are leaving the residence halls due to fears of COVID-19 and the possibility of shifting to all online classes. The university recently announced students could cancel housing contracts without penalty.


Abby Watkins

A moving box pictured in front of a house on Wednesday Sep. 2nd 2020.

Rachel Steil, News Reporter

Students have until Thursday to receive a guaranteed refund on a housing contract cancellation, a push back from August as students opt to move out of the residence halls due to safety concerns during the pandemic and fears of classes shifting to all virtual instruction. Those living on the University of Iowa campus who want to cancel or defer their housing contracts must do so by Thursday and move out by Sept. 13 to avoid financial penalty.

In an email to students on Sept. 4, the University Housing and Dining stated that it would allow students to cancel their 2020-21 housing contracts or to defer the housing contract until the spring semester without extra financial charges. The original deadline to cancel was Aug. 14.

“We are aware that, during the first couple weeks, some classes may have shifted to an online format,” the email said. “Also, you may have increasing personal concerns regarding the spread of COVID-19.”

Gregory Thompson, University Housing and Dining director of residence education, said since the beginning of the semester, housing and dining has been trying to work flexibly with students

“Sometimes that has been contract releases,” Thompson said of those who want to leave campus. “Sometimes that has been deferment, so they can come back in the spring.”

According to the UI’s email, residents who cancel their housing contracts will receive refunds to their U-Bill on Oct. 1 as long as they move out by Sept. 13.  Students should fill out the contract cancellation form, available on the UI housing and dining website. Students will be charged for housing until they officially check out and return their key.

As of Wednesday, nine students were quarantined in the residence halls, and 73 were in isolation.

Upon moving into the residence halls in August, some students said they were feeling relatively safe and comfortable. UI first-year Rabiah Na’Allah said she was trying to be safe while staying enthusiastic about starting college.

Natalie Payán, another UI first-year, said she had initial anxiety upon moving into the residence halls that worsened a few days into living on campus.

“There was always an underlying nervousness because I know college towns are a hotspot for COVID,” she said. “Once the huge story about the girl in Daum broke out, it was even worse.”

Ann Gaughan, a student who lived in Daum, tested positive for COVID-19 just days after moving into the residence halls. Gaughan was met with unprepared quarantine facilities.  The DI interviewed other students in quarantine, however, who say they did not have the same experience.

RELATED: UI Housing & Dining will not notify residents when COVID-19 positive students are moved to quarantine

Soon, the reality of living in the residence halls set in for Payán, she said. While she was taking proper care of herself, she said, she was worried about the actions of residents and university housing and dining.

“[The administration] definitely hasn’t been doing enough,” Payán said. “They try to sweep things under the rug sometimes — which is kind of suspicious — but then there’s also students who are throwing mini dorm parties.”

She said the final straw for her was recently being diagnosed with an autoimmune disorder. After that, Payán said she knew she had to leave campus as quickly as possible.

Na’Allah said she was initially hesitant to move out and that she did not want to abandon campus and the new friends she had made.

On top of not wanting to leave her new life, Na’Allah said she was concerned that canceling her housing contract would be difficult and confusing. After students were notified they could cancel their contracts without penalty, she said she had to take the offer.

“Now there’s no way [the university] can make you stay.” Na’Allah said. “[The university is] giving you an out.”

Payán is moving back to her hometown in Iowa, and Na’Allah is moving home to Illinois this weekend, they said. Payán said this was her only option given finances.

“[Moving home] was definitely not the best-case scenario,” Payán said. “It is not a good study space, which is why I chose to live in the dorms.”

The university has not officially recommended that students leave or stay on campus. Thompson said personal choice remains the university’s mantra.

“Our messaging has always been, since the summer and beyond, that students need to make a personal choice that is in their best interest,” the director said.

UI Health Care Officer Dan Fick told faculty in a recent faculty senate meeting that even if the university went 100 percent online, the CDC is recommending students stay on campus to reduce the spread of COVID-19 to their home communities. Dr. Anthony Fauci last week urged colleges to keep students on campus to avoid spreading the virus further.

“Even if we went 100 percent online, students need to stay here,” Fick said. The CDC is not recommending students leave, our residence halls would be open, and the majority of our students would still be on campus, so it wouldn’t dramatically affect our numbers here in the community.”