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Some first-year students plan to break their off-campus leases next semester to live on-campus, like in the Quad. Credit: Kylie Cooper

While first-year students are required to live on campus in the spring, those who signed a 12-month lease off campus starting in the fall can request an exemption from the housing rule. Some students, however, have decided to break their lease in favor of a more traditional first-year experience on campus.

First-year students can also submit an exemption request to be reviewed by Residential Services due to international travel restrictions, visa restrictions, or an underlying health condition that prevents them from returning to campus. While some students have chosen to bypass the on-campus housing requirement due to concerns of possible COVID-19 spread in the dorms, others are opting to pay one month's extra rent to break their leases to live on campus in the spring.

After Penn closed on-campus housing and advised students not to come back to Philadelphia this fall, several dozen first-year students flocked to The Chestnut, a new luxury apartment complex located at 3720 Chestnut Street, in hopes of mimicking a more normal college experience away from home.

College first-year and Chestnut resident Hayden Siesel is one of the students planning to break his lease and move into Ware College House. Siesel’s move-out date is Jan. 20 and will be required to pay an extra month’s rent after relocating.

Siesel came to Philadelphia this semester looking for a better environment for his mental health and to escape the high number of COVID-19 cases near his home in South Florida. Although he had a positive experience living in The Chestnut, he is moving out of his apartment in pursuit of a more social college dorm experience in the Quad.

“Everyone is like ‘freshman experience in the Quad,’ so I want to have some sort of Quad experience even if it’s not the usual one that everyone talked about,” Siesel said.

He added that it was an easy choice to terminate his lease given the opportunity to live in the Research, Innovation, and Entrepreneurship Program and meet other first years in the program.

Credit: Max Mester Several dozen first-year students chose to live in The Chestnut this fall.

Siesel said he does not mind the more enforced social-distancing guidelines in the College Houses, such as limitations on indoor gatherings, as he has already been taking the COVID-19 pandemic seriously. Siesel said most of his socializations have taken place outdoors or with small groups of people indoors. 

“If you want to hang out outside, even if it's cold, you'll find the means to meet people and have new experiences in a safe way,” Siesel said. “It's definitely possible. I've done it this semester. I feel like I'm going to be able to do [the same] next semester, too.”

College first-year and Chestnut resident Asher Lieberman said, however, he is not looking forward to the stricter guidelines in on-campus housing but has also decided to break his lease in hopes of a more traditional first-year experience, calling the decision a "no-brainer."

“I just want to live on campus and meet a bunch of people my age,” Lieberman said. “Honestly, I feel like If I lived in The Chestnut again, I’d get [fear of missing out]. I want to be where everything’s at.”

Lieberman will pay an extra month of rent in order to break the lease and move into Riepe College House in January. He added that most, if not all, of his friends living in The Chestnut are moving into on-campus housing next semester.

Other first-year students, however, believe that Penn will not be able to prevent the spread of COVID-19 in on-campus housing and are choosing to continue living off campus.

Penn Business Services Director of Communications and External Relations Barbara Lea-Kruger wrote in an email to The Daily Pennsylvanian that students who already signed a 12-month lease prior to Penn’s announcement about reopening in the spring may also be asked to submit additional documentation such as a signed lease contract as part of the exemption process.

After a College first-year student, who is also living in The Chestnut, submitted a housing exemption request and proof of her 12-month lease to Residential Services, she was able to cancel her housing assignment in Riepe College House.

“I don’t know how [COVID-19] would be contained living in the dorm,” she said. “I’m comfortable in my building, so I feel like I should just stay in the situation.” 

She added that most of her classes will most likely be online and that the amenities in The Chestnut, such as the co-working space and fitness center, serve the same purposes as on-campus buildings like Van Pelt Library and Pottruck Health and Fitness Center.

“Going into next semester, I’m still planning on meeting new people,” she said. “If it were any other time, I obviously would be going back to the Quad but with [COVID-19] and all the restrictions, I don’t know how amazing [of a first-year experience] it will be.”