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Judge OKs lawsuit against Florida student housing complex over denied COVID-19 pandemic refunds

TAMPA, Fla. — The pandemic emptied college campuses and dorm rooms across the country. Many colleges around the state, including Tallahassee Community College, posted on their websites in 2020 that students “…should not plan to return to campus after spring break.”

“I wanted to stay home with my family,” said TCC student Justin Lawrence.

According to a case filed in federal court last summer, Lawrence lived at the Social 2700 Student Spaces in Tallahassee.

“They closed the amenities down like the common areas,” Lawrence said, denying him access to things such as the pool, fitness center and TV lounge.

Lawrence told ABC Action News he hired an attorney after the property manager denied his request for a prorated refund on the rent that was paid through April 2020.

“I didn’t think it was fair for me or anyone else to be paying for these while they were shut down,” he said.

Tampa Attorney Billy Howard, who filed the case, is seeking class-action status. If granted by the court, the lawsuit would include thousands of college students who lived in the defendants’ student housing complexes around Florida in 2020.

“It wasn’t fair for them to continue to collect rent when it was unsafe for the students to be there,” Howard said.

The property owner FPA Villa Del Lago, LLC, filed a motion for dismissal, but a federal judge ruled the case can move forward. They argue there was no breach of contract, and Lawrence is not entitled to damages.

“I think it is awesome. I can represent whoever wants to join in,” said Lawrence, who moved into a different student housing complex after resuming classes at TCC this year.

The attorney for the defendant did not respond to our request for a comment. And while the judge allowed the case to move forward, the court asked the plaintiffs to provide more facts to back up their claim.

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