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19 Edward Waters College students were evicted. Some blame the football coach.

On Nov. 27, The District on Kernan filed evictions against 16 Edward Waters College students. A month later, the apartment complex filed three more.

While some said they felt tricked into signing leases that were more expensive than promised, the college and the apartment complex say the students were never promised discounted rates.

Of the 19 students, all but two are student-athletes, including 13 football players. Another is a student assistant coach.

Five of the students filed a document in court blaming their coaches.

"Our Coaches said living there would be better and that our Financial Aid and Scholarships would cover everything," five students wrote in a court document. "Our payments were made On TIME and we had NO problems paying our assigned amount each month which was ACCEPTED as FULL payment until NOW."

In response to a News4Jax story about the evictions last month, Edward Waters College told the TV station: “EWC has confirmed via its athletics leadership and football staff that no such promises as suggested were ever made to any of its student-athletes in this regard. Edward Waters College maintains NO formal or informal agreements with any off-campus housing entities. Further, no agreements between students and off campus housing providers are maintained, endorsed or managed by EWC.”

The Times-Union spoke to students and one parent who said coaches told them rent would be $275 a month or cheaper. Instead, rent was $614.

The District’s attorney, Fred Elefant, said that the complex had been willing to offer a discount if there were enough students who signed up, but not enough did. However, he said the complex never contemplated offering rent for as cheap as $275 a month.

Regardless, he said, the lease clearly said rent was $614, so the students shouldn’t have been surprised when the bills came due.

“If there was some agreement for reduced rent, it would say that in the lease,” Elefant said. “Apparently there is a discount for quantity, but in this particular case, they didn’t meet the quantity that was promised, so no discount was forthcoming. This was explained to everyone in late summer/early fall.”

At best, he said, the students might have gotten a discount allowing them to pay $564 a month.

Isaiah Johnson, one football player who signed the court document, said he’s now looking to transfer to another school.

“Over the summer, the players were told about The District on Kernan and everything it offered — it offered a shuttle service. It was $275 a month. It had a pool, an athletic center, a computer lab. It had everything a young man would have wanted.

“As the semester’s going on, we all realized that we wouldn’t have enough money to pay the remaining amount what they were asking for. The stress with paying rent, worrying about the finals and the eviction notice, it took a toll on most of our grades.”

He provided screenshots of text messages that appeared to show two football coaches and a number associated with the District saying rent would be cheaper.

Over the summer, one student texted associate head coach Antoine Manning, “Do you have any information on different housing?”

The coach replied with a screenshot of information from the District, which said rent for June and July was $275.

The student replied: “Is this for summer or during fall?”

Manning said: “It’s for both don’t know how much is gonna cost for the fall depends on how many students we have living over there could be $275 or less.”

And Carlos Rogers, another football player, texted head coach Greg Ruffin asking for details about the housing. He concluded, “And all this is 250?”

Ruffin replied: “Yes.”

Rogers said he will not be returning to Edward Waters for the spring semester, and he is trying to save up money so he can pay back the cost of tuition and the overdue rent payments.

Another student provided text messages between him and a phone number listed on the District’s Facebook page.

“Rent for the summer is 275. We have to list the ‘street’ rate. However yall get a discount for the summer and fall. Once all other players complete everything we will be sending out concession addendum which details your discount rate for the rent.”

The student replied, “So the rent is still 275 right?”

The District’s number replied: “We have not got the rates for the fall yet but will be discounted. You will not be paying 614.”

That phone number did not accept incoming calls when the Times-Union tried it.

“We’re evicting people for owing a lot of money here,” Elefant said. In some cases, more than $3,000 was owed. “We just want them to pay the rent.”

Despite the students filing an answer in court to one of the evictions, each of the evictions were accepted by county judges.

Suzanne Garrow, a tenant lawyer for Jacksonville Area Legal Aid who did not represent any of the students but who leads the nonprofit’s eviction defense project, said that the students didn’t file the right type of court document. She said they needed to file a motion to determine rent along with proof showing they were entitled to a lesser rent.

“If something isn’t filed as a motion to determine rent, it may not be viewed by a judge,” she said.

At least one of the students also said that his family paid the complex his past-due rent after the eviction was filed, but he was still evicted. Under Florida law, tenants are supposed to pay past-due rent through the court’s registry, not directly to the complex, because they may also have to pay the apartment complex’s attorneys fees.

The students who received eviction notices aren’t the only ones who said they felt duped. Shay Joyce said her son, Jarius Joyce, an offensive lineman at Edward Waters, also moved into the District after the apartment complex and the football coaches said there were going to be steep discounts. She said she paid her son’s rent to ensure he wasn’t evicted.

A recording from September captured her talking to an employee at The District on Kernan. The employee kept saying she didn’t know if a discount was coming or how many more students would need to sign a lease before the discount would kick in.

At one point, the employee says that “each coach has dealt with that [the discounts] individually.”

Joyce said that she was told the District would take at least $250 off rent each month. “We were told one thing and that is not what they had been doing,” she told the Times-Union.

Edward Waters College President Zachary Faison did not return a request for comment. An automated email reply said that he would be out of the office until next week, but he has continued to be active on social media.

Coach Manning said he couldn’t talk about what happened, but he disputed the students’ claims.

He said the college doesn’t bear responsibility for leases student-athletes signed with a third party.

“I have the emails I sent that said the rent could go up or down depending on the amount of students living over there. The $275 was only for the summer. Depending on how many students went over it could go up or down.”

However, Elefant, the apartment complex’s lawyer, said the rent would not have gotten cheaper than $275, no matter how many students signed leases.

Manning said the real story is about students who refused to pay rent.

“The story is they didn’t pay their rent. They didn’t fulfill the binding things that they signed. That’s what it really is."

Andrew Pantazi: (904) 359-4310

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