Dorm residents not protected by ‘standard of living’ law
In winter 2016, Edens North residents were left without reliable hot water for three months total, and no hot water at all for a chunk of that time. The students were compensated 51 cents a day in Viking Dollars for the days without hot water and were told to make friends in another residence hall or shower at the Wade King Recreation Center, Associated Students Legislative Liaison and former Edens North resident Henry Pollet said.
According to University Residence Director Leonard Jones, this was the best compensation that could have been offered.
“I believe the situation was handled as well as could be expected, given the catastrophic failure of 60-year-old parts that had to be custom-made locally,” Jones said in a recent email response. “Our goal is to always provide the best possible customer service to our residents, and we regret the inconvenience to residents of Edens North.”
The problem is that this was far from good customer service, Pollet said. Since the incident happened, he has brought it up in various meetings with Western’s Office of Government Relations and an event for students to talk with administration, Sandwiches with Sabah.
“The rec center is almost exactly a mile away from Edens North,” Pollet said. “And if you don’t see why that’s a problem, that people shouldn’t be walking [from] there after taking showers in the middle of winter every day, that’s a thing.”
Pollet has cited the Residential Landlord-Tenant Act in the Revised Code of Washington for what compensation would be in a “standard” off-campus living situation. The act states that a tenant can file a lawsuit against a landlord after a fair amount of time that the problem would be fixed, as determined by a judge, for daily compensation of about 100 dollars for each day they don’t have access to any one of the basic requirements for housing.
One of these requirements is hot water.
According to the RCW, Western is exempt from this chapter under 59.18.040, because university housing is only considered “incidental,” or temporary, for the sake of a tenant’s education. Because of this, fair compensation falls to the administrators’ determination.
Both Western’s Office of Government Relations and President Sabah Randhawa expressed sympathy but otherwise appeared to be unaware of the issue, Pollet said. Still, he has stayed persistent.
“This is something that I want the university to pay attention to, and I think that if the university is providing housing then they have a responsibility to make sure that it’s livable,” Pollet said.
While the lack of hot water in 2016 was an isolated incident, more problems are bound to occur with the increase in incoming freshman and the lack of on-campus housing, Pollet said.
According to Western Today, the university welcomed almost 300 more freshmen in fall quarter 2017 than the previous year. This number is only growing.
Former resident advisor Patrick Kissinger reflected on his freshman year at Western, when certain students would get large dorms by “luck of the draw.”
“That [luck] does not exist on campus anymore because if there was a space to be had, it was converted into a triple or a quadruple,” Kissinger said. “There are no big suites anymore. Everyone is crammed as can be.”
Kissinger’s first year as an RA was on the seventh floor of Buchanan Towers, he said. He had 70 residents, the most of any RA.
The campus average number of residents for an RA to advise is 32, Kissinger said.
Questions to the university residence director regarding how compensation for the Edens North incident came to be and the ongoing dwindling housing accommodations were not returned with a response.