The International House provides lodging for mostly young people from around the world, graduate students from different schools and professionals.

There are as many as 700 residents, but the numbers are down significantly after the organization told them a resident died from Covid-19 and half the building needed to be empty by Friday.

“The International House is supposed to be a shelter for people all around the world and now we’re being forced out of the building,” said Niklas Lukassen, who's been living in the complex. “We might have contained the virus already so I think we are putting people at risk.” 

The people left want to stay, but it’s dorm-like living and officials say that’s not conducive to safety.

The International House, an independent non-profit organization partnering with many organizations that include Columbia University, has written to residents that for health and safety reasons the South Building should be empty by Friday.  

Residents of the North Section Apartments are being encouraged to find somewhere else to live, although it is not closed yet. Evictions are banned in the city during this pandemic, so residents are confused as to how they’re being forced to leave.

“I think we should just stay put and we’re already going through a hard time and forcing us out of the building is just adding to that whole situation,” said Lukassen. 

City officials have pointed out the residents here don’t sign a lease and that’s the clincher.

They sign a Resident Membership Agreement (RMA), so it’s like a dorm room for a university and in the first few lines of the contract it indicates that the organization may have issues staffing the buildings moving forward, telling residents it is providing low cost deals to hotels if they need it.

The Department of Housing Preservation and Development says the threat of immediate displacement in the middle of an epidemic poses serious challenges for these students, and that they will be connecting them to a city-funded legal provider for assistance.