Census officials are concerned that college students in Santa Barbara have left and might not be counted in the census.
Census officials are concerned that college students who left Isla Vista and other South Coast areas may not be counted locally.  (Joshua Molina / Noozhawk photo)

Property managers and owners are trying to figure out how to respond to the barrage of Santa Barbara-area college students who are looking to abruptly get out of their leases or find someone to take their place in the wake of the COVID-19 scare.

The closure of UC Santa Barbara and Santa Barbara City College to on-campus classes due to the coronavirus pandemic has sent many students back home — and in desperate need of sublettors.

On Saturday, a few UCSB students were loading furniture onto U-Hauls. Others strapped furniture on top of their cars.

The UCSB Free/For Sale public Facebook group is lit up with students asking people to take their spots in their apartments.

“Hey, guys! I’m moving back home for spring and have a beautiful studio on 65 Seville I want to sublease,” writes one student. “The apartment’s super close to campus and beautifully furnished! Looking for someone to take it over for the rest of the school year! Lease ends mid-June. Message me if you’re interested.”

Another one states: “A double room available from 25-30th of March to the 15th of June. Located in Block 68 Trigo Road. It can come fully furnished including two bedstreads, two matrasses (sic), a wooden table and two chairs (items sold separetly). It’s 650$ per person without utilities. We’re looking two people ASAP!”

The site includes dozens of listings, as well as assorted items, such as a soap dish, a refrigerator, toasters and other items. 

Ron Wolfe, owner of Wolfe & Associates rental company, said there are many challenging details to sort out in the world of property management.

“We are waiving any late fees and any sublease fees,” he told Noozhawk. “We’re not looking to evict anyone or take them to small claims court. We want to work with people. We will do whatever we can to make the impact less significant.”

Furntiure piled on top of a vehicle in Isla Vista.

Between UCSB and SBCC shifting to online-only classes and the coronavirus pandemic, students are packing up and leaving Isla Vista in any way possible, sometimes with furniture piled on the roofs of their vehicles. (Joshua Molina / Noozhawk photo)

Wolfe & Associates manages about 500 units in Isla Vista — for dozens of property owners.

About two dozen students, he said, have asked to get out of their lease outright. UCSB students occupy most of those units.

“There are a lot of challenges to deal with, a lot of different facets,” Wolfe said.

He added that, so far, his company is handling situations as they arise.

“We have decided internally to take it on a case-by-case basis,” Wolfe said. “Part of the challenge … is we have a number of units and there are multiple people who own the units.”

He said it’s not an easy thing for property owners to waive lease requirements because they rely on those rental dollars to pay mortgages and property taxes.

“For the property owners, they need the income,” Wolfe said. 

Ed St. George, who manages property in Isla Vista and near SBCC, said he has about “100 kids who want out of their lease.”

“We’re hit just like everybody else,” he said.

St. George said he has about 2,400 tenants in the area, adding that he will work with his tenants as much as possible.

“Obviously we are not going to be charging late fees,” he said. “There’s no lease-transfer fees.”

St. George has about 1,000 tenants in Isla Vista. His Beach City near SBCC has also taken a hit, with students wanting out of their leases.

He said he’s trying to help his tenants and be strong for them. His crew checks in on those who remain every day just to make sure they are OK.

“I am really concerned about them,” he said. “They are the ones with all the stress. A lot of them are going to be failing the semester now because of all this.

“It’s stressful enough. We really don’t know what to expect.”

Noozhawk staff writer Joshua Molina can be reached at jmolina@noozhawk.com. Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk, @NoozhawkNews and @NoozhawkBiz. Connect with Noozhawk on Facebook.