Cancer is not the only thing James Yates has been battling since January.
Yates, management junior, withdrew from Texas State after receiving news on the second day of the spring semester he had Hodgkin’s Lymphoma, a cancer in the lymph nodes, spleen, liver and bone marrow.
He moved back to his native Beaumont within the week to undergo treatment surrounded by his family, but there was one loose end in San Marcos. His apartment complex, The Edge, refused to let him out of his lease until mid-April.
“I told them I was leaving,” Yates said. “I got diagnosed with cancer. I can’t help it. I would stay if I could, and they told me that they would not let me out of my lease. They didn’t show any sympathy at all. It was just the lease.”
Yates paid his January rent before leaving San Marcos, but was billed for February, March and April while he was in Beaumont receiving treatment. Yates said he relied on student loans to pay his rent when living in San Marcos, but he returned the money upon withdrawing, leaving him unable to pay for his unoccupied apartment.
Yates turned to Sylvia Holmes, an attorney for Texas State students, frustrated when letters and phone calls from The Edge management went unanswered. Holmes explained the law was not in Yates’ favor.
Texas Property Code 92.017 lays out the circumstances in which a tenant can legally vacate a lease to avoid financial liability. According to the state law, only active military servicemen who are deployed for more than 90 consecutive days and an injunction following family violence can terminate the lease before the end of the contract.
“We had to approach the issue from moral rightness,” Holmes said. “Leases are written in favor of the landlord. You are stuck with those terms.”
Holmes said she appealed to the apartment management’s compassion for Yates’ situation to no avail. Yates and his mother wrote letters and scheduled appointments while Holmes lobbied The Edge’s corporate offices and rallied national cancer foundations such as the American Cancer Society, but Yates found himself indebted almost $1,400 to The Edge halfway through April.
Then, April 13, Yates received a letter from The Edge officials saying his current balance due was $0.
Jennifer Gonzales, property manager for the San Marcos location of The Edge, did not return multiple calls for comment.
Yates said he and Gonzales came to a verbal agreement to break the lease, but it took three weeks to receive the letter from management making it official.
The Edge is one of 30 apartments participating in Texas State’s Achieving Community Together Ally Program, a partnership intended to promote positive relations between students, apartment complexes, the university and San Marcos. Yates discovered The Edge because their participation in the program allows employees to come onto campus at a reduced rate to advertise the apartment in Texas State’s housing fair.
According to the program’s participant agreement, landlords and property owners are responsible for being accessible, giving timely responses and maintaining good rapport with residents.
Michelle Lopez, associate director of the LBJ Student Center, said Holmes kept the program’s officials informed of Yates’ struggles as he attempted to break the lease. The program was established in 2009, and Lopez said no apartment has been disassociated.
Lisa Dvorak, community liaison for the city, said she does not want to remove The Edge from the program, but instead would rather use this as a starting point for discussions regarding student welfare.
Dvorak said property managers are often unable to absolve a debt incurred from unfulfilled contracts. However, there were other options available for Yates, such as subletting or filling his apartment first when new residents move in. Dvorak said management from other apartments in the program have utilized similar resources to help sick residents.
For Yates, however, his eventual victory did little to improve his opinion of the apartment complex.
“When someone tells you something like ‘you have cancer,’ the only thing I could think about was school. It was my second semester out on my own,” Yates said. “All I could think about was moving back home and leaving people behind. I figured I might have a slight issue with the lease in the beginning, but I figured everything would turn out all right for me. I never thought I’d have this big of an issue with.”