Students celebrate end of ‘rental nightmare’ as BYU changes strict housing policy and controversial contracts with landlords

The private school will now allow students to live wherever they choose after their first two semesters.

(Leah Hogsten | The Salt Lake Tribune) The 2021 fall semester gets underway at Brigham Young University, Aug. 30, 2021, in Provo. Starting next fall, BYU students will have more housing options after their first two semesters at the private religious school.

In a major change to its strict housing policy, Brigham Young University announced Thursday that it will no longer require students to live only in campus dorms or school-approved apartments while they study at the private religious college.

After their first two semesters, all BYU students will now be able to live anywhere they choose — in Provo or beyond. The new policy starts next year, in fall 2022.

The decision was met with celebration on social media, coming after years of students expressing concerns around the controversial contracts that BYU has had with off-campus landlords in particular. Some saw those as a way for the university, which is sponsored by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, to monitor their behavior off campus.

In the dorms, students are required to follow the school’s Honor Code, a set of standards that includes no drinking, no drug use and no sex outside of marriage, in accordance with the teachings of the faith.

But landlords, in their agreements with BYU, also agree to enforce those same rules with their tenants off campus, in the only other places where students were approved to live.

Under the contracts, tenants have been encouraged, for instance, to turn in their roommates when they witness any rule-breaking, such as having a boyfriend or girlfriend over after curfew. And landlords have landed some students in the Honor Code Office or even evicted them for violations of the school’s policies for conduct.

The setup is a particular challenge for many LGBTQ students, especially those who are transgender. Transgender students say they have been forced to live with roommates who don’t accept them in order to find housing that fits BYU’s rules, or have been reported for having a relationship with someone of the same sex. The school and faith prohibit that.

Cal Burke, a recent BYU student who is gay, called the announcement “one of the greatest and most unexpected things that could happen in recent memory for BYU.”

“This means the end of predatory BYU-endorsed housing conglomerates,” he said, and “the end of evictions based on rumors or sexual orientation.”

Before the shift, students had to live in on-campus dorms or off-campus housing where the landlord had a contract with BYU, for the entirety of their time at the school. And all of those housing options fell within a 2-mile radius of the university. Students did not have the choice to live outside of that, for instance, in nearby Orem or at a place where the rent might be cheaper.

That put a lot of power in the hands, too, of landlords who could charge what they wanted, knowing students had to live there.

Graduate students and married students were exempt from that, but all others had to find a place on the approved list or live with “qualifying family members,” usually their parents.

The school said Thursday that part of the reason behind the change was greater flexibility.

“These decisions were made in an effort to better serve our students and provide them with more options,” said Student Life Vice President Julie Franklin in a statement.

Students will still be expected to follow the Honor Code, she said, “and BYU’s student housing policies,” even if they choose to live elsewhere with the policy change. That means only roommates of the same sex are allowed.

But they can now live where it works best for them.

Burke also said the housing contracts made it a “rental nightmare” for anyone living in Provo — not just BYU students. The school acknowledged Thursday, too, that had become an issue and was part of the reason behind the change.

With the housing contracts around BYU, anyone living in those complexes was required to follow the Honor Code — whether they went to the school or not. With few other options for places to live in the area, many who were not members of the LDS Church had to live in those apartments if they needed a place in Provo.

The university said there are “challenges third-party, off-campus landlords face when requiring non-BYU students to abide by the [Church Educational System] Honor Code and BYU’s student housing policies.”

The school will continue to maintain some agreements with landlords who want to continue working with BYU, so that students who do want that option still have it.

But now those will be updated so that the off-campus apartment complexes that contract with the university only house BYU students. That way, no other individuals are falling under the Honor Code requirements.

The school sent notices to all landlords it works with this week, notifying them of the changes. Those interested will be able to renew their contacts with BYU.

The changes do not apply at any other church school, including the campuses in Idaho and Hawaii.