Potentially hundreds of Brigham Young University students are finding themselves without housing contracts — virtually homeless — this week.

And students say there is little they can do but mooch off family and friends — or simply live in their cars.

Jesse Davison, a BYU senior, experienced the same problem last year. Because of the gap between his move-out date and his move-in date for his new apartment complex, he was left homeless for about 12 days. His family is from Oregon, and he has no family in the area. Fortunately, Davison's roommate had family nearby and invited him to stay for the time he's in limbo.

"If it wasn't for Burke, I don't know what I would have done," Davison said of his roommate. "I probably would have stored my belongings in a storage unit and slept in my car."

Many BYU students often end up in precarious situations come the end of each semester. Not only do they have to worry about finals and finances, but students moving into new apartments have to deal with gaps in their housing contracts. Most of the complexes in Provo create at least a seven-day gap between contracts to provide maintenance and cleaning before new tenants move in.

Single undergraduate students are required to live in approved housing while attending BYU. "The university seeks to have an environment for its single students living on and off campus that is conducive to their moral and spiritual growth and their academic performance," according to the BYU Off-Campus Housing Handbook.

"It seems stupid that they basically make thousands of students homeless," Davison complained of the BYU contracted student housing.

However, apartment managers and BYU housing representatives argue that students are given plenty of warning to find somewhere to stay during this time.

"I know it's difficult for students," said Danielle Johnson,

property manager of Riviera Apartments. However, students know when they sign their contracts when they will be required to move in and out. The students have time to plan what they will do between semesters, she said.

BYU spokesman Todd Hollingshead explained that BYU has no responsibility regarding the contracts students make with private entities. However, students have the responsibility to read and understand their housing contracts before signing them. The students then have at least an entire semester to decide what they will do during the break between contracts.

In a nonscientific, door-to-door survey of 78 BYU students who said they were moving between semesters, 12 will be able to move from their current apartment into their new one all in the same day. For the other 66 students, they will have to find somewhere to stay for an average of 10.42 days.

Several students said they felt they have no choice but to accept whatever terms are outlined within their housing contracts, including their move-out and -in dates. Because of the demand for BYU-approved housing, students said they felt they had to accept their contracts as written, with no option for alterations. If they chose not to accept the contract they said they would simply have to keep searching for a residence with a suitable contract, something several students felt would be an impossible task.

The majority of the students contacted by the Deseret News said they will be spending their time between contracts at a family member's home or at a close friend's apartment. However, one student said he did not know anyone in the valley well enough to spend a few nights on their couch.

"This is the second year I've had to crash a few nights in my car," Jim Stirland said. "I don't really like spending my break finding spots in the (Provo) canyon to sleep. Not all of us have family and friends in the valley."

Even during this transitional time, BYU students are expected to abide by the University's Honor Code. In order to enroll at the university, students sign an agreement to live their lives in accordance with "those moral virtues encompassed in the gospel of Jesus Christ, and will ... live a chaste and virtuous life," according to the university's Web page.

This lengthy agreement includes a section regarding residential living standards. Students agree to visiting hours for members of the opposite sex, with no overnight guests.

While students must agree to this contract to remain in good standing with BYU, seven of the 78 students surveyed admitted their plans to stay with their boyfriend/girlfriend or another member of the opposite sex between contracts.

Six of the students surveyed are living in on-campus housing and do not plan to move to a different complex for the fall semester. However, BYU requires students to move out of their apartments for cleaning and use during Education Week this week.

Students who wish to live straight through the contract periods in on-campus housing during the 11 days in between contracts are allowed to stay and pay $15 per night. Students, however, have to move their belongings to another apartment that is available during that time and then must move into a final apartment at the beginning of the semester.

All students who plan to live on campus during both semesters are able to store their belongings on campus at a designated location without a fee, if they don't plan on living there during the 11 days.

However, those students surveyed at on-campus housing sites did not feel the $15 fee was reasonable and said they had made alternate plans, living with family and friends. "You pay a full month's rent, then if you want to stay, they charge you more," explained Davison.

While a $15 per day charge may seem absurd to some students, others who are not given the option to stay at their current complex or to move in early would have to pay upwards of $120 per night at local hotels. Cheaper hotels have been booked for weeks due to BYU's Education Week visitors.

"It is a challenge for anyone who houses students," BYU's on-campus housing spokesperson Bart Stoddard explained of the housing gap. He said that the gap is necessary for complexes to provide the cleaning and maintenance expected by the incoming students.

Managers of apartment complexes agree with Stoddard. They need the gap between contracts and some believe it is not long enough.


E-mail: cmadsen@desnews.com