The beginning of any semester is a sea recognized by most as turbulent and full of urgent to-do lists. There are last-minute class changes, textbook shopping and, for some, moving in to the dorm or apartment that they’ll call home for the next four months or more.
But students may want to add taking date-stamped photos of their new living spaces to that list.
Last year, the University passed a total of 11,247 undergraduate and graduate campus residents through their dorms, according to the university’s 2012 “Facts and Figures.” Despite this sort of traffic every year, the dorms have remained in fairly good condition–a matter undoubtedly back-boned by the university’s Room Condition Reports system and stringent standards regarding room “damages.”
Upon moving in, on-campus residents receive–as physical forms, or electronic ones–Room/Apartment Condition Reports (R/ACR) from their Resident Assistant (RAs) and Residence Hall Directors (RHDs).
The Campus Residences Office was reluctant to comment on the process, but according to students, the forms summarize damages reported by the room’s previous occupants. Students can claim the damages as either still existing or fixed.
Some residents claimed that reports from semesters past did not contain space to note any damages that were not already acknowledged on the report. This year, the reports host a list of furniture for students to mark as existing or non-existing and a space to comment on the room’s general condition.
The reports are used as “the basis for determining damage, cleaning, and billing if there are discrepancies during the checkout process,” according to the university’s Terms of Occupancy: Undergraduate Halls and West Apartments, and a less-than-comprehensive form could lead, in some cases, to misplaced blame and, accordingly, faulty charges.
Jess Narkiewicz, a graduate student, remembered being charged $100 once while she was living in West Apartments I for chipped paint and damaged bedroom walls.
“I got charged this summer $100 for damages that I did not do in my room. I tried to appeal, but they said I did not have enough evidence.”
According to Narkiewicz, the chipped walls were noticeable from the day she moved in, however there was no way for her to note the damage on her RCR.
Instead, she attempted to document the situation by taking pictures of the damage with a digital camera and showing them to her RA. She did not realize until she got the bill that the photos had done nothing to help her case.
Narkiewicz’ appeals were denied, she said, because the Campus Residences Office could not determine that the photos had been taken at the beginning of the year, rather than the end.
Contrarily, a suitemate of Narkiewicz ran in to a similar issue, and defended herself with a video she had made her parents from the beginning of the semester in which the damages were visible. Her charges were ultimately reversed.
Narkiewicz believes that much of the blame rests on the inadequate room damages reports.
“I do not think the room reports are efficient they do not account for a lot of damages, there is also no way to provide evidence of damage,” she said. “I was not able to resolve any prior issues successfully I always ended up giving up and paying the charges.”
The last time she’d seen the walls, they had still not been painted or repaired.
Matthew Dzamko, a sophomore philosophy major, said, “It’s not that hard to avoid causing damage to the suite, because you just have to do something kind of ridiculous to cause enough damage to have to pay for it.”
However, Dzamko, who said he has not personally had any discrepancies with the Campus Residences office concerning room damages, also remembered a time when every member of his friend’s six-person suite was charged approximately $20–for an approximate total of $120–because they had left a large trash bag in the common room.
“In my opinion it’s fair for them to say ‘If you caused the damage, you have to pay for it’,” Dzamko said, “But in some cases, I don’t think it’s reasonable to charge so much money for something like a garbage bag left in the common room.”
According to the university’s Terms of Occupancy, each person living on campus will be held responsible for any “damage beyond normal wear and tear” to his/her assigned room and all equipment and furniture it comes with, as well as the funds for any cleaning they deem necessary.
While the university certainly has a right to charge students for damages or messes, what has been considered in the past to be an imperfect system leaves it in the hands of the student to secure their own innocence by thoroughly reporting damages when they move in, and even recording them with videotapes or date-stamped photos.