ZIBBY PILLOTE /// Editor-in-Chief
“The Easiest Move: Stay On Campus!” read an email dated Jan. 28 to rising junior and senior students currently living in dorms. But securing a desirable spot on campus is not all it’s cracked up to be. This spring, Campus Living implemented a new strategy for assigning students to on-campus housing for the 2013-2014 school year. The strategy involved incentivizing rising upperclassmen to stay on campus by offering them the first choice of housing accommodations, a three percent rent reduction on the 2013-2014 room rates and the chance to win iPads, parking permits and bookstore gift cards. The email from Director of Campus Housing Sandi Bottemiller also emphasized new block meal plans and free laundry.
In order to be eligible for such benefits, students had to enter into a lease agreement that involved a “required (non refundable) $200 deposit.” While the email mentioned the sense of community and benefit of convenience that comes with living on campus, it failed to state how many apartments were available for rising juniors and seniors, and through what sort of process the applicants would be chosen.
Ted Jack (’15) took issue with the way his deposit was handled after he did not receive the apartment that he had applied for. “The general sense was that if you applied early, you would get an apartment,” said Jack. Jack and his friends were wary of the “non-refundable” fee, but wanted to take advantage of the opportunity to significantly increase their chances of getting the apartment of their choosing. “We only proceeded with the application because we had been told that if we didn’t get our apartment we would be able to get refunds. This eventually became the general consensus among students.”
Originally, the early action housing initiative was assumed to be on a first-come, first-served basis. On March 13, Bottemiller announced that Campus Living would be switching to a lottery system in order to assign apartments “in the most fair way.” According to the first-come, first-served system, rising seniors were given priority over rising juniors, who were first-time applicants to the apartments.
When Jack and his friends began to suspect that they would not receive a four-bedroom apartment and would instead be split into two double apartments, the group decided to try to cancel their lease agreement. Bottemiller alerted the group eight days before announcing outcomes to all applicants that they would not be issued refunds because Campus Living “could have accommodated [them] in two-bedroom units.” Though Bottemiller’s Jan. 28 email clearly states that deposits were nonrefundable, other Campus Living employees had told Jack that in the event of a four-bedroom being split into two two-bedroom apartments, the deposit could be refunded.
The initial decision was that no person who had applied early would be issued a refund under any circumstance; this included students who had applied for four-bedroom units and were offered two-bedroom units, as well as students who had applied for either and received nothing. After a number of students voiced their dissatisfaction, Campus Living changed the policy so that students who did not receive either two- or four-bedroom assignments could get a refund, and students who received two-bedroom apartments after applying for four-bedroom apartments could receive a partial refund and have the rest of the money go towards living on campus. The inconsistency in granting refunds was extremely frustrating for Jack, who was determined to do something.
The lease agreement for the apartment states that students may receive a refund if their application is cancelled before July 1 for the fall semester, or Nov. 15 for the spring semester. Early action applicants are an exception to this rule—for the privilege of signing up early, deposits may not be refunded.
After a meeting with Dean of Students Anna Gonzalez and Bottemiller, Jack received his deposit back in return for his silence. “They essentially asked me at the meeting to let people speak for themselves and stop taking action on behalf of the student body about this. What I took from it was they were saying, ‘Yeah, we’ll refund you, now shut up,’” said Jack. Jack encouraged other students affected by the debacle to share their stories with him in the hopes of building a legal case against the school.
“It turned out I couldn’t take legal action. They refunded me so I couldn’t [do anything] on my account, and the other person in my situation received an offer [for a partial refund] from [Campus Living] and she took it,” said Jack.
On March 28, students were notified as to their apartment living situation. Jack was forwarded an email by a friend sent to “Students awarded doubles” that clearly states that in lieu of losing the $200 completely, “you may opt to apply for a residence hall room instead...We will refund $100 of your deposit if you choose to complete the housing contract, keeping the remaining $100.”
The event has sparked a series of discussions on campus, in the Campus Living office and beyond. On April 1, a meeting was called in Akin Hall to address these issues. “Bottemiller seemed to [think] that I was making all this up and there weren’t any problems, and we addressed the fact that they refunded some people but they aren’t refunding other people, and they won’t tell people what the actual requirements are to get a refund, and there’s just a lack of transparency,” said Jack.
“It leaves you with a bad taste in your mouth. You’ve got all these students paying $40,000 a year to go to school here, and they’re not going to refund you your $200. Really?” said Jack.
Jack says that he and his friends will be living in a house off campus next fall. He admits the apartments are nice, but does not believe that they are worth so much trouble. Two-bedroom apartments and four-bedroom apartments each cost $3,677 a semester before the addition of a required meal plan. Four-bedroom apartments feature a full stove and oven and a full-sized fridge, while double apartments have a two-burner stove and microwave oven.