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WVU: Students won't be forced to move

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CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Although West Virginia University officials said Friday they want to start demolishing buildings on their newly acquired Sunnyside land in December and January, they said students won't have to move before their leases are up.

Instead, university officials said, they hope to make it as attractive as possible for students and other tenants to move somewhere else.

"We can't force anybody out," said WVU Housing Director Corey Farris. "We would like for them to [move], and we'll talk to them to see what it is we can do to move them along, but there's still a lease that's there."

In a news release Friday, WVU officials said the school had entered into a $70 million contract with Paradigm Development Group LLC to build a 297,000-square-foot residential and retail complex, partly in hopes of beautifying the notoriously raucous area of Morgantown.

The last paragraph of the release stated that WVU officials would "immediately begin contacting students and other tenants to offer alternative housing options and assistance with moving," and that "demolition is expected to begin in late December or early January."

That led many students to believe the university would void their leases in Sunnyside and force them out of their apartments.

Farris said that's not true, and WVU spokesman John Bolt confirmed that tenants would not be forced to move out of Sunnyside to speed up construction.

Farris said he spent all day Friday in the Sunnyside area, talking with student and nonstudent tenants, trying to alleviate their concerns about the new construction.

The first round of the demolition reportedly will affect residents living on University Avenue, Grant Avenue, Third Street and Houston Drive. Farris said he does not yet have a general number of how many tenants will have to move before the demolition can begin.

WVU officials said they plan to compensate tenants who agree to break their lease. The school, for instance, will pay the difference for the remainder of their current lease if a tenant finds an apartment with a higher rent.

The enticements might extend beyond that, Ferris said.

"It might be something where we buy them a gift card," he said. "We're going to treat the students right. We're not going to hassle them."

He said officials will lobby the tenants in the initial construction zone the heaviest, but students in other parts of Sunnyside will be welcome to break their leases, as well.

"If they want out, we'll say sure," he said. "Certainly, like I said, we'd like to be able to strike a deal with everybody so Paradigm can begin construction."

According to state tenant law, a landlord can break a year-to-year lease as long as he gives notice "at least three months prior to the end of the year."

Bruce Perrone, a landlord-tenant expert with West Virginia Legal Aid, said leases can have dozens of clauses that allow landlords to get out of a contract. Properties changing hands during foreclosure or bankruptcy proceedings also could nullify tenants' leases.

"What does the lease say?" Perrone said. "The lease may give the owner the option of terminating. That can be either whenever he feels like it or under certain prescribed conditions.

"If the landlord has the authority to terminate, then the tenant is going to be stuck."

Perrone said that if the lease is an otherwise solid one-year rental agreement, then the owners still are bound to their tenants if the property changes hands.

"I think, as a general rule of thumb," he said, "the purchaser of property steps into the obligation of the seller in regard to lease."

Reach Zac Taylor at zachary.taylor@wvgazette.com or 304-348-5189.


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