Residence Halls Struggle to Place Blame for Damage Charges

Move-in student volunteers unload cars and take first -year students' belongings to their rooms at Mertz Hall on the Lake Shore Campus August 19, 2015. (Photo by Natalie Battaglia)

When property damage occurs in residence halls, students are charged to pay for repairs, even if they aren’t responsible for the damage.

Residence Life damage charges can range anywhere from $50 to $1,000, according to Associate Vice President and Director of Residence Life Deb Schmidt-Rogers. Wall repairs begin at $50, a lock change charge is $150, cleaning fees range from $50 to $225 and furniture repair or replacement can range from $150 to $1,000.

Students accumulate charges when moving out from residence halls. The process has changed this year, altering how students are fined.

Residents used to check out by scheduling an appointment with a resident assistant (RA) and doing a walk-through inspection of the room. The process has changed to express checkout in which Schmidt-Rogers said a resident no longer has to schedule an appointment with an RA to check his or her room before he or she leaves. Instead, an RA will inspect the room after the resident moves out.

“Express checkout prevents residents and their families from having to wait for a specific time to check out. It allows greater flexibility for all,” said Schmidt-Rogers. “If a student has followed all the basic instructions and completed their eRCR [room condition report] when they checked in, there are typically no issues.”

Rising senior marketing major Lea Oedzes said that although the checkout process is easier, she worries she will be charged for something that was previously there because she won’t be present to explain herself.

“The blinds are broken, the walls are chipped and my roommate just put a hole in the wall,” said the 21-year-old. “I am worried I will be charged for the damage, even though it wasn’t my fault.”

If damage is found in a resident’s room, the student will be notified by email after the inspection, according to Schmidt-Rogers. She said RAs compare the condition of the room after checkout to the condition noted in the eRCR filled out by the student at the time of move-in.

Students can also be fined with community charges if damage is done to the residence hall.

If the student who damaged the residence hall is not caught or does not come forward, then the residents on the floor or the whole residence hall could pay a community charge, meaning the total cost is equally divided among residents.

“We work really hard to identify the person responsible for damage, which may include asking students if they are aware of who caused the damage,” said Schmidt-Rogers. “Honestly, it’s rare that there is no one who knows who is responsible. Sometimes residents don’t feel like they want to provide the information, which is unfortunate, because if we can’t identify the person, we have the option to do community damage billing.”

Schmidt-Rogers said when a community charge occurs, most students who weren’t responsible for the damage are upset and don’t realize that they agreed to the conditions in their housing agreement.

These conditions hold students accountable for any “malicious” damage to residence hall common areas when Residence Life is unable to find the person responsible, according to Schmidt-Rogers.

Rising junior Noah Matthews faced a community charge when he was a first-year student living in Mertz Hall. He said a student or group of students damaged the bathroom on the dorm’s fifth floor and he had to help pay for the damage.

“It was annoying that we all got charged because most of us didn’t have anything to do with it, but I can understand why it happened that way,” said the 19-year-old international studies major. “It was more disappointing that someone would do that kind of damage to a public space than it was to get fined.”

Residents from the floor were charged $50 to replace the soap dispenser, $150 for the wall burn repair, $250 for feces cleanup and $340 for four hooks and shower handles, according to an email Matthews received from his RA. The total amount of damages was $790, and each resident paid $21.

Students have the option to dispute a charge, but since an agreement was signed, release from payment is infrequently granted.

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