American Campus Communities Statement Regarding COVID-19
AMERICAN CAMPUS COMMUNITIES COVID-19 STATEMENT
March 31, 2020 - July 31, 2020
"Our pledge is that every American Campus Communities resident will continue to have a home during this crisis regardless of their ability to pay rent on a timely basis," said Bill Bayless, American Campus Communities CEO. "We will act in good faith – working with every student and family suffering financial hardship on a case-by-case basis to ensure our residents continue to have a home and complete their online instruction in an academically-oriented environment. At this difficult time, there will be no late fees, no online payment fees and no financial related evictions. Also, there will be no negative impacts to the credit reports of those suffering financial hardships related to the COVID-19 pandemic."
Our hearts go out to all of our residents and their families who will experience hardships as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. This is truly a black swan event and it is encouraging to see the U.S. government has passed the $2.2 trillion Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act to supplement income for most Americans by: 1) providing stimulus payments directly to working students who filed their own tax returns; 2) expanding unemployment benefits for students and/or their parents who lost their part-time or full-time jobs as a result of the crisis; and 3) offering forbearance on student loans. More information on available unemployment benefits can be found at this website sponsored by the Dept. of Labor.
These programs and others benefit all residential renters including those in student housing, traditional apartments and single-family rentals. We will continue to advocate for our residents to make sure they are supported during these tumultuous times. To directly assist, we will also be temporarily waiving all online payment fees, late fees and financial related eviction proceedings at this time. We have also formed a COVID-19 Resident Hardship Program and have appointed a taskforce to qualify and work with residents and families who endure financial hardship on a case-by-case basis.
American Campus Communities provides housing for more than 135,000 students at over 90 campuses across the country. We have been and continue to track the rapidly evolving policy decisions that each of these universities are making with regard to how they are delivering their educational curriculum for the remainder of the Spring semester, whether or not they are keeping their university-owned residence halls open, and any specific policies, procedures and protocols they are establishing for students with regard to COVID-19. If and when we become aware that any of our student residents are directly impacted by the virus, we will attempt to make them aware of the resources and assistance that each university offers in conjunction with the local health department.
At our communities, we have adopted relevant guidelines issued by the CDC and the World Health Organization and communicated all guidelines to our residents. In meeting those guidelines and to facilitate social distancing, we have temporarily closed most common areas – such as our gyms, social gathering spaces and recreational amenities. We have also put policies and procedures in place to limit face-to-face interaction with our on-site staff while enabling them to continue to deliver essential services to our residents. We have at times also reduced the number of ACC personnel on site at any given time to meet the social distancing guidelines issued by the CDC. Additionally, we are following CDC guidelines for daily cleaning and disinfecting, which include everything from hand-washing hygiene and cleaning product specifications to open area cleaning procedures. We are also making hand sanitizers and disinfecting wipes available in our lobbies and open areas as long as such products are available to us.
Nearly all of the universities and institutions we serve have moved to some form of on-line education to deliver their academic curriculums, permitting students to complete and earn full credit for the Spring and Summer semesters. To our knowledge, none of the universities are offering refunds of tuition. In all circumstances, it is our goal to ensure that our residents can continue to receive academic instruction, complete their coursework, and continue to be housed in an environment conducive to their academic success. To facilitate this, the large majority of our communities are designed to deliver a minimum of 200 megabits per resident with a maximum of 1 gigabit per resident at some of our communities. During this time when the entire nation’s use of broadband is testing the limits of our national infrastructure, ensuring adequate broadband service for our residents to continue to receive academic instruction and to complete their coursework has become the top priority of our IT department.
When looking at our large and diverse portfolio, it is important to understand the various types of communities we operate and the varying degrees of formal relationships that may exist with the universities we serve. Following is an overview of our portfolio broken down by properties located on-campus versus those located off-campus.
On-Campus PropertiesMore than 30 of the properties we own are structured as public-private partnerships located on campus. These properties largely consist of traditional on-campus residence halls where our partner universities lease directly to student residents and operate these communities as part of their broader on-campus housing program. We also have more than 25 on-campus communities where we are only a third-party manager and operate the property under the direction of the owner, which typically is the university or a not-for-profit foundation. At these on-campus properties, we are working hand in hand with each of our client universities to facilitate their administrative, financial and student policy objectives during this crisis while considering the parties’ legal covenants governing these sometimes-complex transactions and the students’ legal rights under their lease agreements.
Off-Campus PropertiesWe also privately own and operate more than 100 off-campus apartment-style communities, where in the open market, we as landlord directly lease to students as tenants under traditional residential lease agreements governed by local and state laws. While many universities we serve with off-campus housing continue to operate their on-campus housing, some universities made the decision to close and fully vacate on-campus residence halls in part because it was difficult to accomplish social distancing guidelines given that many of those facilities were designed 50-60 years ago having community restrooms and group bathing facilities. Also, they do not include in-unit living rooms, but rather shared common social spaces designed to accommodate larger groups socializing outside of their dorm rooms. In addition, most of these on campus leases end soon, in early May. Also, the universities have much lower on-going expenses as they are nearly all exempt from paying local real estate taxes, which is the single largest on-going expense for private off campus operators.
In strong contrast to older on-campus dorms, modern off-campus apartment communities are much better suited for implementing social distancing as they consist of contemporary apartment accommodations with living rooms in each individual unit, private or two-person bathrooms in each individual unit, and full kitchens in each individual unit, just like multifamily apartments. Because our off-campus properties are typically leased on a 12-month time frame, our lease terms span across numerous academic terms. Most of our current leases extend beyond this Spring term, through the summer with many going into the months of August or September.
At these off-campus properties, we have the contractual lease obligation to house students for the entire term of the lease, while students always have the freedom to physically occupy their apartments as they choose. For example, it is not uncommon for residents to go home for the extended winter break from mid-December to mid-January, for spring break, and in many cases for the entire summer term, all while still leasing and paying rent for their college apartments. In the case of this evolving COVID-19 pandemic, we remain committed and are contractually obligated to provide housing for our residents, and student residents continue to have the option as to when they choose to physically occupy their apartments between now and the end of the current lease terms in August or September. We have heard from many students that they desire to stay at their college apartments instead of going home and running the risk of potentially infecting their parents and grandparents who may be in a higher risk category. All this holds true for students living in private off-campus properties at all of the universities across America, whether they have leased in modern purpose-built student communities such as ours, traditional multi-family apartments, duplexes, townhomes and multiplexes, single family rental homes, or any other type of off-campus housing.
It is for all of the reasons stated above, we are not offering lease terminations and refunds at private off-campus apartment communities. As previously stated, we will be temporarily waiving all late fees and financial-related eviction proceedings and we will work with residents and families who endure financial hardship on a case by case basis. We have also formed a COVID-19 Resident Hardship Program and have appointed a taskforce to qualify and work with residents and families who endure financial hardship, on a case-by-case basis. If you are a resident and you and your family have been financially impacted by the COVID-19 crisis, please contact us regarding your financial situation.
For our residents/guarantors who have fortunately not experienced an income disruption from COVID-19, it’s important to understand that all existing lease contract obligations do remain in place. If you are not currently facing a COVID-19 financial related hardship, please continue to pay rent as usual. The ability to pay our bills, impacts the financial security of many lives. Your rent continues to support the personnel and staff who work every day to provide essential services to all residents, pay our small business contractors, and other expenses such as real estate taxes that fund local school districts and first responders.
In ClosingThese are unprecedented times, and we are all facing challenges and circumstances that we have never faced before and for which we don’t always have an immediate answer or solution. On a daily basis, we pledge to put the health and wellbeing of our residents and ACC team members first. We are grateful for everyone’s patience and understanding as we continue to support each other more than ever before.
COVID-19 Frequently Asked Questions
What measures are you taking in relation to COVID-19?As part of our commitment to the health and wellbeing of our residents, employees and university communities, we are closely monitoring the CDC and WHO guidance regarding COVID-19 and are communicating the CDC hygiene and prevention guidelines to our residents and employees at all of our locations. In addition, we are practicing social distancing, implementing the following actions for residents and our team members:
- We are closing common area amenities including social lounges and fitness centers. Academic Success Centers will remain open for residents to use for online coursework, along with laundry facilities.
- Staff work hours are being limited to comply with social distancing recommended by the CDC, which may result in delayed response time for work orders.
- Preferred communication between residents and staff are phone calls and emails in an effort to limit person-to-person exposure. Virtual property tours are now available for interested students.
- Daily cleaning and disinfecting occur in accordance with current CDC guidelines, which include everything from handwashing hygiene and cleaning product specifications to common area cleaning procedures. In addition, we are making hand sanitizers and disinfecting wipes available in our lobbies and open areas when possible.
Are residents able to stay at your communities during this time?The colleges and universities we serve are enacting a wide array of measures in response to COVID-19, and we are closely monitoring their actions and policy changes and will work with them accordingly to meet the housing needs of our residents while also abiding by the health and safety guidelines outlined by the CDC.
At our privately-owned off-campus properties, we remain committed and are contractually obligated to provide housing for our residents, and student residents continue to have the option as to when they choose to physically occupy their apartments between now and the end of the current lease terms. We have not closed any of these communities but are implementing reduced staff hours and amenity access and are following recommendations made by local governing authorities. While we have adjusted staffing hours and policies to accommodate social distancing best practices, we continue to operate and support our residential communities as students fulfill their academic mission. We want residents to be assured that they will still have a place to live within our communities.
Will you be issuing refunds if student residents are not occupying their units for extended periods of time?ACC partners with universities under a variety of structures both on- and off-campus. For our off-campus communities, we offer 12-month leases across multiple academic periods and we intend to honor those contracts. Regarding concerns students have about making rent payments, this is an unprecedented situation and we are monitoring government action. We are hopeful that the upcoming U.S. government programs will provide rental assistance, including for our student residents. We will continue to advocate on their behalf through our involvement in apartment industry associations. We will also be temporarily waiving all late fees and financial-related eviction proceedings at this time and will work with residents and families who endure financial hardship on a case by case basis.
What should residents do if they think they have been exposed to the virus or are experiencing COVID-19 symptoms?If residents think they have been exposed to COVID-19 and develop flu-like symptoms, we are advising that they immediately contact their healthcare provider and follow their instructions. Additionally, we recommend that students contact their university and refer to guidelines provided by university and local health officials. Please refer to CDC.gov and the President’s Coronavirus Guidelines for America at whitehouse.gov.
What if my roommate gets sick? What if they are quarantined?If you believe your roommate to be sick, have them contact their healthcare provider immediately, and continue following CDC-recommended cleanliness and social distancing guidelines. If your roommate has not contacted their healthcare provider, please let us know and we will contact the university and/or local health officials to determine the appropriate protocol. The healthcare provider will work with local health departments to provide additional instructions and manage the response to any suspected cases of COVID-19.
Procedures will vary from city to city, and our staff will coordinate with local or university health officials as needed and follow their directions regarding mitigation measures or quarantine protocols. For more information on local quarantine protocols, you may contact your local or university health officials directly.