One may hear the slogan “Students First” at my university. However, the idea that this university will help you and consider your interests first is wrong. As an international student, I feel safer living on campus because I am afraid of dealing with landlords off campus. Who knows whether or not they will trap me with an unfair lease? Also, if I have trouble with landlords, I will have difficulties to communicating with them because my English is not good and I may not be able to find an assistant. However, my experiences with the housing office at UNI are as bad as I could have imaged about landlords off the campus. I feel I was trapped, and I was trapped by the university.

I live at Hillside University apartments. Last year in October, when I first learned that my Japanese roommate would graduate and go back to Japan in May of this year, I went to the housing office and asked them how I could get a one-bedroom apartment. Because I am a doctoral student and just started my program last fall, I wanted to live in a one-bedroom apartment so that I would not have to worry about finding a roommate all the time. The woman (someone told me later that her name might be Rosemary) working at the counter told me that my best chance to get a one-bedroom apartment was to apply for a transfer. If I applied for a transfer, I could still look for a roommate, and if I could not find anyone, I could move to a one-bedroom apartment. I was planning to not renew my lease this past May but apply for a one-bedroom. I thought if I applied in May, I would have a better chance to get one-bedroom apartment because I could move in whenever they had a one-bedroom apartment available. However, she told me that my best chance to get a one- bedroom apartment was to apply for a transfer. If I just applied for a one-bedroom apartment, I would be on a waiting list and it would be difficult to get one. Therefore, I renewed my lease in May because I believed that I could have a one-bedroom apartment if I could not find a roommate.

However, when I visited the housing office again in June, the formerly friendly and caring woman had become unfriendly. She said that I needed to talk to Nandini Bissessar-Grant, area coordinator of the University Apartments and Suites. She was the person who would decide who could get a one-bedroom apartment.

When I visited her, she told me that there were no one-bedroom apartments available and that I needed to pay the full rent of the two-bedroom apartment if I could not find a roommate. I asked her about the result of my application and if there was a waiting list because I wanted to see where I was. If there were any one-bedroom apartment available later, I wanted to know how to get it. She could not find my application form, so she asked me to apply again. I felt they did not keep students’ application and I did not see any waiting list. Because they lost my application, my position on the waiting list was also lost. She said she did not keep my application because that was last October and she did not have any one-bedroom apartment available during the winter break. However, no one told me how often I need to reapply for a transfer. I thought I was always waiting for a transfer. If they told me there was little chance for me to get a one-bedroom and I could have lived in a one-bedroom off campus. There are a lot of one-bedroom apartments off campus and they are cheaper than the two-bedroom apartment I am paying for when I do not have a roommate.

I asked her what I would have to pay if I broke the lease. She said even though I would not live here, I still needed to pay 60 percent of the full rent until the end of my lease. That will be May 2008. However, I can choose to move to a dormitory or other university apartments. As long as I am living on campus, I will not be considered breaking the lease. I was upset, but I understood that it was not wise to fight with the university when I did not record what had they said. Who would believe that they told me I could have a one-bedroom apartment if I could not find a roommate? Even though I feel they just trapped me to keep this two-bedroom apartment, I can only blame myself because I did not know the rules about housing on campus and was not familiar with the contract and their policy. Fortunately, I found a roommate, but my nightmare had just begun.

A girl who came from Colombia lived with me in July. She is a CIEP student (Culture and Intensive English Program). She said she would only live here until August because she and another girl already had a two-bedroom apartment in this area with a lease to start this fall semester. However, she decided to continue living with me so she told Nandini and her roommate that she would be my roommate instead. She was not considered to be breaking her lease with the other girl because she was still living on campus. She said she would be living with me until December because her CIEP program would continue until then. I thought that would be fine because I could look for a roommate who could start living with me for the spring semester and save half of the rent of the house for at least half a year. However, she told me in September that she is having financial problems, so she would be moving out in order to live with her host family. The family allowed her to live for free so she could save her rent for three months.

I did not worry very much because she could not move out to live off campus without breaking the lease. In my case in summer, the university asked me to pay 60 percent of my rent until the lease ended. However, I was wrong. Nandini told her that she could move out without any payment and she would force me to pay the rest of the rent. This is strange that I am the only person who did not break the lease nor violate the relationship with my roommate, but am taking responsibility and getting punished in this situation. It is no surprise that I could not find a roommate during the semester and am having financial problems because my roommate wants to save money and the university cannot bear to lose that part of the rent.

I wrote a letter to ask Nandini why my roommate could move out without paying any penny. She asked me to look at the contract, section II, which says that we need to pay the full monthly rate if one roommate moves out. That was on September 13. After I received the letter, I wrote her again to ask her a question, “if I find a new roommate, can I just move out to the apartment off campus like my roommate did?” She never responded.

During this summer, when I was frustrated in finding a roommate, I asked her why other students could live in two-bedroom apartments and pay the rent of one-bedroom apartment. I knew they locked off one room of a two-bedroom apartment and allowed students to only pay the one-bedroom rate. Nandini said that was a special way in a special situation. However, I will never know how she decided that my situation was not special enough.

My roommate is moving out at the end of September, and she will continue studying here until December. I do not understand why her lease can end earlier than her graduation. We all have a one-year lease. Only graduation can release us earlier. I do not understand why she can live with her host family. That is off campus. I still do not understand how to get a one-bedroom apartment. Do I need to apply for a transfer again after the summer vacation? Is there really a waiting list? I am willing to follow any rules they have, but the rules seem arbitrary. I feel I have been treated unfairly. If I were dealing with a landlord outside, I probably could see all the requirements on my lease and would be more careful about everything. I never knew that dealing with the housing office could be so difficult here in the university that dares to call itself “Students First.”

On September 28, Friday, I had a chance to meet Lyn Redington, Associate Director of Residence, in order to talk about my situation. Things became even stranger.

She told me that my roommate who is going to break the lease and move off campus will have to pay 40% of her rent as a penalty. She showed me the contract section IV. B. which says, “Should the resident leave before the end of his/her contract period the resident will be held responsible for 40 % of the rent through the contract end date.” I told her that my roommate does not pay any penalty. When she told Nandini that she needed to move out, Nandini told her there will be no penalty and she could just leave and let me pay the rest of the rent. Also, when I asked Nandini about breaking the lease and moving off campus, she told me that I need to pay 60% of my rent until the end.

Lyn insisted that my roommate will have to pay a penalty, and 40% penalty is clear on the contract. She also mentioned that the full contract is all online. However, she said that someone might pay for my roommate’s penalty or she might have applied for a penalty waiver. This is the first time I knew that students have the right to apply for a penalty waiver. This summer, when I asked Nandini about moving out, she did not mention that I could have a chance to put my case in a committee for a penalty wave. Lyn told me that I will have to fill out a “residence hall and dining contract release application” for a penalty waiver, but I will have to appear to be living off campus. I would have to move out first. I told her that I am sure that my roommate does not even know there is a penalty she needs to pay and that I know she did not apply for a penalty waiver. Because Lyn insisted that my roommate will have to pay a penalty, I asked her to prove that my roommate has paid the penalty or has applied for a waiver. Lyn said, “It is confidential.” I showed her the letter that Nandini wrote to me to answer my questions about my roommate moving off campus and asked her, “If it is true that my roommate needs to pay a penalty, why she did not tell me the contract section IV, B to say that she needs to pay but showed me the contract section II to ask me pay the full rent.” Lyn said, “Because she is not supposed to tell you anything about your roommate. It is confidential.” In short, when I need to pay the rest of rent for my roommate, I do not even have a right to know whether or not she is required to pay the penalty. When I considered breaking the lease this summer, I was not informed of the correct amount of the penalty or that there was a chance for me to have it waived.

After I came home, I asked my roommate to write a statement to prove that Nandini told her she does not have to pay a penalty, and that she never applied for a waiver. She is moving out today and believes that there is no penalty for her.

One thing that upsets me is even though my roommate paid her 40 % rent as penalty, the university still charges me for the full rent. What an unfair contract students have at this university. In my case, I need to pay extra money and my roommate needs to pay a penalty, but the university, which does not do anything to our situation, earns an extra 40% of the half rent on this two-bedroom apartment. No wonder they did not give me a one-bedroom apartment. As Lyn told me, if I got a chance to transfer to a one-bedroom apartment, they will have to clean the one-bedroom apartment I am going to move into and the two-bedroom apartment I am moving out. After several weeks’ cleaning, they might not be able to rent that two-bedroom apartment. I understand now that their best interest is to keep students in their two-bedroom apartment. If they told me this situation last October, I would have decided to end my lease this past May and live in a one-bedroom apartment off campus because this housing office had no intention of giving me a one-bedroom apartment. A transfer is nearly a mission impossible.

I am pretty sure that my roommate does not have to pay a penalty, but I was asked to pay in summer so I told Lyn, “You know I can sue the university, and I will win this case because the university needs to prove that it treated every student equality.” Her face twisted and said, “You can sue the university, but that takes a lot of money.”

I told Lyn that Nandini’s attitude was not good and I heard some students also complained about her. I asked Lyn, “How longer she will be in this position?” She said, “I hope long.” Also, she told me that Nandini will not be fired. I asked her, “What evidence you will need to change her position?” She said, “For example, students will have to write down their statement and sign their name.” I told her that Nandini did not respond to my last e-mail. Lyn said that I should check my e-mail to make sure that I got a receipt. She said I can set up the function in my e-mail to make sure that people did receive my e-mail. I said, “But I will get automatically responded to if she is out of town.” Lyn said I could also send her a copy when I e-mail Nandini. This university really should have a slogan saying “Staff First” because Nandini does not have to prove that she responded to my e-mail, and students need proof to even begin a discussion about how poorly they are being treated. Students living in a dormitory fill out the evaluation or opinion surveys, but students living in the university apartments are never asked to do so. When I complained about the staff working in the housing office, I will have to ask students to write down their statements and give them to Lyn. I have been asked to evaluate the service of the library, the international student’s office, and very professor and class I have taken. Why didn’t I have a survey for the housing office? Is it because its job is making dirty money from students rather than serving students?

Lyn sent me a letter after our meeting and said that they will lock off one room in my apartment and let me pay one-bedroom rate for three months. Also, I will be the first person who gets a one-bedroom apartment when there is one available. Why do they do so? I am asking for justice, the right every student should have to be treated equally and fairly. They still did not explain why my roommate can pay nothing to move off campus. They did not explain why they can earn an extra 40% rent. The money should go to the renter who will have to pay the full rent. They did not explain how students can have a one-bedroom apartment without being frustrated and working as hard as me. In fact, I should only pay the one-bedroom rate until the end of my lease or I find a roommate because they told me last October that I could move to one-bedroom apartment if I could not find a roommate.

I don’t need pity or help from the housing office or the Department of Residence. What I am asking for is a fair contract. It should be listed on the contract we signed and have the important sections highlighted. Most of the students who rent the university apartments are international students. We do not look at the contract online and know the process of fighting for our rights. We believed that the university would not trap us and the contract would be fair. The university signs the lease with students separately and billed me and my roommate separately. It is possible for the university to see each renter separately so that the person who violated in the two-bedroom apartment lease does not have to pay the full rent. If the university really needs the money, at least reduce the 40% rent penalty for that poor student. Finally, I really want to see a survey or evaluation for the housing office so I do not have to knock every resident’s door and ask for a statement.

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