Money Down the Drain: Innocent students pay the price for dorm damage

A broken sink in a residence hall is one example of the damage students could be charged for. Regardless of where the damage is done, all students in the building could be held responsible.
A broken sink in a residence hall is one example of the damage students could be charged for. Regardless of where the damage is done, all students in the building could be held responsible.

By Jess Hoogendoorn

Sometimes an exit sign is vandalized, a door is broken or maybe someone sets off a fire extinguisher. No matter what it is, if a residence hall is damaged and the person responsible is not identified, all students in that hall get charged.

No matter how little a repair costs, students are charged a minimum of $5 each for any damage sustained by their residence hall that was inflicted by an unidentified person. Resident advisers (RAs) are the only occupants not billed for any damage done to the hall or the floor they live on.

“We do our best to try to identify the individual or individuals responsible for that damage because we would prefer to charge the person that actually did the damage versus the entire building,” said Roberta Butler, director of housing operations.

Butler is not sure when or why the $5 minimum was implemented. It was a system she inherited when she assumed her position last May.

Some students question the minimum and the values assigned to certain damage. Senior Matthew Goldman lived in Kroner last year and was charged for several repairs. However, Goldman said the value assigned to each incident seemed arbitrary.

“One time, there were apple cores littered throughout the hallway and they charged us $5 [each] to pick up the cores,” he said. “I don’t see what supplies you need besides bending down and picking them up.”

Residence Life does keep track of where excess cash goes when actual repairs cost less than the money that is collected.

“It goes in our pot meant for repairs and replacements,” Butler said. “There [is] a lot of [damage] that students may not get charged for but they still need to be repaired over the course of the year, so whatever money we receive from damages does go into a pot that does go back into the building.”

The money added from the excess of the minimum charge supplements the funds that are already put aside to keep the buildings up and running.

“All of the money that we take in does go back into the buildings, and unfortunately, some of it goes into systems that [students] won’t be able to see; nobody is really going to look at a roof, but some of the money we take in may go into making roof repairs or fixing electrical,” Butler said.

Students are charged if an item is damaged that the whole building uses, such as furniture in a lounge. Students on a floor pay for damage that is specific to that floor, such as damage to a bathroom, according to Butler.

Resident advisers, Public Safety officers, Facilities workers and Unicco workers are responsible for reporting damage and vandalism.

Some students argue that it isn’t fair that RAs don’t get charged for damage.

“They’re doing as much damage as I was doing, which was none,” said Michelle Wall, who lived on the third floor of Ziegler last year.

Senior Meagan Gallagher, who was an RA in Poyda last year, said if RAs were charged, then they would be less likely to report damage done to the buildings.

Wall said she had to pay approximately $200 in damages last year. The high cost was partly because the lounge television was kicked in and later replaced. The replacement television was later stolen, but the hall did not have to pay for the stolen one, according to Wall.

“I think they should have put cameras in the lounge instead of charging everyone,” she said. “Nothing was done to fix the problem, but we were still charged.”

Sophomore Francesca Lumetta lived in Lake House last year. She said a student got drunk and threw up in the building, but moved out before the end of the semester. No one identified the student and therefore the whole building was charged $5 for the cleanup, according to Lumetta.

“Obviously we don’t want a ‘Big Brother’ world, but we need a little more monitoring,” she said.

Butler said it is helpful if students help monitor the halls and become “advocates in their own community.”

At the end of the year, students receive a letter that details the damage done to the buildings and total cost billed to students, Butler said.

“We supply a short blurb in the letter to students to say you’re receiving a dorm charge of x amount of dollars for exit lights, screens, smoke detectors; we break it down and then we give them a total at the bottom,” she said.

Students may not remember this much detail on the letter they received at the end of last spring semester. This is because there was a misprint.

“The letters that were sent out, we ran them incorrectly,” Butler said. “So any student that called, we were giving them the information over the phone versus rerunning the letters, because that was just way too many trees to kill.”

There were no statistics on record of which residence halls had the most damages, according to Butler.

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