Displaced students want out of their off campus leases

Posted at 3:37 PM, Mar 29, 2016
and last updated 2016-03-30 11:44:00-04

Norfolk, Va. - For $680 dollars a month, Old Dominion University students staying at The District, an off-campus apartment complex, say they should be getting more for their money.

“There are doors that are open to the rest of the world that I’m paying for to keep closed,” said sophomore Omary Branch, who lives on the 2nd floor of one of the buildings. “I’m paying for security guards, and I feel like a lot of people are not safe in this building. It’s a problem that they keep putting off. They’re putting a Band-Aid on a heart attack. It’s not going to work.”

Branch was one of 198 students who were displaced on Monday after a small fire set off the sprinkler system in his building.

“I walk out of my room, and all I see is water,” said sophomore Whitney Aryeetey. “You would think a hurricane is here and the roof is not here, that's how it looked."

In a statement to NewsChannel 3, a spokesperson with the apartment complex says they “…are actively communicating with each and every one of [the] affected residents…almost 130 (128) of those residents have been put up in hotels while others have been moved to vacant beds at the property or are temporarily staying with friends…”

However, some students say text notifications are the only kind of communication they’ve received.

“[I need] more clarity of what’s going on, because I was getting the text updates, but they weren’t telling me what was happening,” said sophomore Jason Stromberg, a resident at apartment complex.

Some students told NewsChannel 3 they were asked to check out of their hotel this morning, but had not been told whether or not they could return to their apartment.

“I’ve got my whole room on my back,” said junior Robert Harrell. “When they said, ‘you have to check out by this time, oh, and by the way, you still can’t go into your rooms, and stay there,’ we are just wondering around on the streets.”

“The main thing I want to do is figure out where I’m staying tonight,” said Branch. “I understand they accommodated us by putting us in the hotel, but when I’m paying a lease here, I’m not only paying to stay here, I’m paying for the ability to store my food, and I’m paying for the ability to cook my food.

“Putting me in a hotel is only solving half the problem.”

ODU and the District have offered the displaced students a free meal, but many students say the fire was the final straw for them, after numerous problems with security.

“Honestly, the only thing I’m worried about is they are not letting anyone cancel their contracts right now for leasing,” said senior Marcus Toms, another District resident.

A spokesperson with the District confirmed the apartment complex isn’t planning on letting anyone out of their lease at this time.

The same spokesperson also told NewsChannel 3 the fire marshal was investigating the units, and that some may be able to return to their rooms today. They could not give a time frame for the restoration efforts however.

Fortunately, students say the fire shouldn’t affect their classes, and ODU did not see students seeking to withdraw from courses because of the fire.

“It should not affect classes,” said senior Juhan Washington. “You should not have to drop because of this, because it will only last a couple of days."

Washington noted however how “annoying” the whole process had been, and that “there is always something going on” at the District apartment complex.

The District used to be affiliated with ODU, but the university cut ties with the apartment complex around Thanksgiving last year.

ODU released the following statement:

"The District is a privately-owned facility that houses students, but not exclusively students from ODU. Lease agreements are between residents and the District."