Residents faced with administration fees

It’s bad enough to have to pay for damage for which you weren’t responsible, but it’s worse, say some Main Campus residents, to be charged an administration fee for the privilege.

Residents have complained that the residence damage charges system, which charges a minimum of $5 even if a student owes less, is inefficient and has not been applied fairly. One resident of Morris Hall e-mailed University Rector Ahmed Kayssi with concerns after the building was assessed damage charges.

“The total charges for our building from first semester [are] $372.18 split between 200-odd people,” the resident wrote. “However, [Residence] Life will be collecting $5 [from each of] 200-odd people.”

The resident said the building’s Residence Life coordinator, Stephan Tang, was asked about the charges and replied that the extra fee was for administrative purposes.

“This may be so, [but] the library system is able to charge students $0.20, $0.40 etc. with no minimum charge,” the resident wrote. “I agree that damages need to be paid for, [but] that is already being accomplished with the ‘damage charges’ that [residents] are being billed—the amounts [of] which are already absurd in their own right. Is there some sort of legitimate explanation for this? ... I am really quite angered by the injustice of this policy.”

EngSoc student senator Ewen MacKinnon raised the issue at the Mar. 25 Senate meeting, asking why some residents were billed damage charges for the fall term and why the charge was rounded up to $5.

The system of damage charges and minimum fees seemed to many residents like a cash-grab by what is already one of the most expensive residence systems in the country, MacKinnon told the Journal.

“There was $380 of actual damage in Morris, and [Residence Life] wound up charging them over $1,000 for it,” he said. “Why are we debating something that’s so petty? [Residence Life is] getting 5 million bucks [from residence fees], and [it’s] going to nickel and dime students ... It seems like they’re spending more time and energy on it than is actually worth it.”

Dean of student affairs Bob Crawford told Senate that large damage charges are billed in the fall to discourage students from damaging residence property.

However, he said, Residence Life never intended to bill students for minor damage in the fall because the small fines do not act as a deterrent and are difficult to collect. Residence Life has since removed charges of less than $5 from students’ accounts and rolled them over until the end of the year, Crawford said.

He agreed with MacKinnon that the reason for the two-year old policy was still unclear.

“They either need to change the policy or come back with a clear statement of their rationale,” Crawford told Senate.

Elizabeth Leal, director of Residence Life, told the Journal students have been billed for damage charges for many years, although the minimum fee policy has only been in place for the past two years.

She said incidents involving anonymous damage to residence property are investigated by staff, who consider the extent of the damage and the circumstances. They then decide if Residence Life should absorb the cost or divide it among the residents of the floor or the building.

Leal said students’ cumulative charges are tracked and only assessed at the end of the fall term if they amount to $5 or more.

Otherwise, the charges are carried over into the next term. At the end of the year, outstanding damage charges close to $5 will be rounded up or down to $5 and billed to the students concerned.

Very high charges will be assessed in their entirety, while very low charges may not be billed at all, Leal said. She said there are no defined cutoffs or circumstances in which staff would decide to bill, round off or ignore damage charges. This $5 minimum fee is a processing fee intended to simplify the billing process, Leal said.

“It’s easier to assess $5 than, say, $4.84 ... when you’re thinking about the amount of human resources used to process them,” Leal said. She said assessing charges is complicated by how often students move between residences, since staff must manually compare students’ relocation dates with dates on which damage occurred to avoid billing a student for vandalism committed when he or she was not living on that floor.

Leal said the system is overseen by a damage committee composed of administrative staff, residence council members and student staff, which has been in place for three years. This committee reviews the policy each year and compares the damage costs Residence Life has incurred with the revenue collected from damage charges.

“Every year we collect less than is paid out,” Leal said. “[The charges reflect] the amount it costs to bring contractors in in the middle of the night.”

Leal said she had been approached by several students and staff with questions about the process, and said the damages committee would be examining the policy to clarify the minimum fee system for students.

Kayssi, who raised the student concerns with Residence Life and the University, supported the initiative.

“There is a lack of policy, a clear policy that communicates to students what is going on, what their rights are,” Kayssi said. “I don’t think it’s right that someone should pay a $2.00 ... administrative fee, and one person gets away with 10 cents.”

MacKinnon said he has been approached by several students and Dons who have complaints about the minimum fee and say they weren’t made aware of it.

Although one of the fines’ functions is to deter students from damaging residence property, the current system is not effective, MacKinnon said. He said he thought if students knew they would be charged a minimum of $5, they would be more likely to commit further small acts of vandalism if they knew it would not affect their total charges.

“People know that you pay for stuff stolen from the caf, so they do it anyways,” he said.

MacKinnon said other mechanisms on campus, including the MCRC discipline council and the AMS Judicial Committee, should deal with students who damage residence property.

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