Sam Clayton

Sam Clayton, a Franklin & Marshall College senior, stands outside his parents’ home in Chevy Chase, Maryland, on Friday, April 24, 2020. 

It was March 11 when college senior Sam Clayton got an email saying Franklin & Marshall was shifting to remote instruction through at least April 3 following spring break due to the novel coronavirus outbreak.

“All students who are able to go home for a few weeks and then return to campus on or after April 3 must do so,” college president Barbara Altmann stated in the email, emphasizing “must do so” in italics.

Clayton, 22, a Spanish major, was living in College Hill Apartments on Lancaster Avenue, one of three F&M-approved, off-campus housing options for students. After reading the email, Clayton hurriedly packed up some of his belongings – clothes, an acoustic guitar and an electric bass guitar, books and other school supplies – leaving the rest behind.

In-person classes, after all, were expected to return, so he’d be back, he thought. 

Within a couple days, he was back at his parents’ home in Chevy Chase, Maryland.

“It seemed like the safest thing to do,” Clayton said. “I wanted to be with my family.”

A month and a half later, Clayton is still learning online – and will do so for the rest of the spring semester – and he’s still in Maryland. But the company who manages his Lancaster apartment won’t issue him a refund. Instead, the company’s owner says he can come back anytime.

“College Hill hasn’t closed and we never told any of our residents to leave or not come back,” Angela White, owner of Susquehanna Realty Management, which has offices in Lancaster and Harrisburg, told LNP | LancasterOnline.

White said the apartments remain open, and safety measures, like enhanced cleaning, have been implemented.

Clayton’s situation is akin to that of other college students nationwide, particularly those who live off-campus, who find themselves in a seemingly lose-lose situation: Go home to protect the health and safety of themselves and their family, or continue to live in an apartment just because they’re paying for it.

“I think it’s pretty outrageous that we have to continue to pay rent at a school-sanctioned apartment after the school told us to leave,” Clayton said.

About 750 F&M students live off-campus in communities such as College Hill, according to college spokesman Peter Durantine. The two other college-approved, off-campus options are College Row – run by Campus Apartments, based in Philadelphia – and James Street Properties – run by Silverang Development Company, based in King of Prussia.

James Street Properties is not issuing refunds, either. However, Kevin Silverang, the property’s manager, said the company is assisting students who wish to terminate arrangements with various utilities.

When contacted by a reporter, a Campus Apartments spokesperson declined to comment.

F&M, Durantine said, has been “communicating with the property owners to advocate on behalf of our students and their families.” The college is considering using part of the emergency funding it will receive under the federal CARES Act – nearly $1.7 million – or its own resources, to “help minimize the impact on our students with off-campus leases.”

Meanwhile, some 1,200 students will receive refunds for on-campus housing in the next week or so.

“Our expressed institutional goal has been to act with as much generosity and empathy as possible during this tremendously difficult time,” Durantine said. “We will continue to advocate on our students’ behalf.”

F&M’s neighbor to the West, Millersville University, said its off-campus housing affiliate, Student Lodging, is offering partial rent relief. For the months of May and June, students may choose either a 15% discount on rent or defer their rent until after the pandemic passes.

Elizabethtown College does not have college-approved, off-campus housing.

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