After move out, students surprised by extra fees

first_imgWall damage. Room cleaning. Miscellaneous charges. These are just a few of the assorted fees that some students face after they move out of USC Housing.Landing in email inboxes approximately a month after the students turn in their keys, the charges often serve as an unwelcome surprise to those already a few weeks into their summer vacations.Surprise! · Some students in Fluor Tower (above) were not expecting cleaning fees and other charges after move out. — Joseph Chen | Daily Trojan“I was completely blindsided,” Ahlia Bethea, a Fluor Tower resident during the 2013-2014 school year, said. “Everything was in great condition [when I left], everything was clean, but my suite was still all charged a fee for cleaning and damages.”The process starts at the beginning of the year, when residents complete a room inventory form that assesses the current condition of their apartment, dorm or suite. Then, during move-out, that form is utilized by the students’ respective residential advisors to assess any visible damages that may have accumulated during the year.Once the RA signs off that everything is empty, clean and organized, residents are free to leave. Often, students think this is their final inspection. It isn’t.In fact, the RA’s final walk-through only plays a small part, if any, in determining whether students will face monetary charges.“The role of the RAs at move out is to work with the residents on sorting out responsibility for any damage/cleaning charges as well as note what the room looked like when they met with each resident upon them vacating housing,” wrote USC Housing Director Kennan Cheung in an email to the Daily Trojan. “They do not make decisions on charges nor quote any pricing.”Instead, Cheung explained, that billing lies in the hands of housing staff who perform their own separate inspections. Like the RAs, workers utilize the room inventory form from move-in, as well as information from the RA’s assessment and “any other factors that may have come up over the year to determine charges.”Officially, the 2013-2014 USC Housing Living Agreement states that “any damage to University operated facilities caused by the Resident or his/her guest(s) beyond that arising from normal wear and tear will be charged to the Resident.”What constitutes “normal wear and tear,” however, is largely under the discretion of the housing staff. For example, Cheung noted that things such as light stains and dirty spots are expected but burns, holes in the wall and nail holes are not.“The housing staff spends a great deal of time with this process, and we try to be as equitable as possible,” he wrote.Nevertheless, that hasn’t stopped some residents from arguing that these charges are being overblown. Often, the disagreement stems from confusion on what exactly constitutes finable damage.Roohi Kumar, a Fluor Tower resident last year, mentioned that when she and her suitemates were filling out room inventory forms during move-in, housing staff said only to document “major damage.”“We were told it just had to be major damage that we could have possibly been billed for,” she said. “We didn’t report minor chips and what not because we didn’t consider that to be major damage, and at the end of the year it turns out that’s exactly what they billed us for — tiny little chips in the desk and around the wall.”She said many of the marks had been there from previous years, but because of what she was told, she didn’t note them at the time.These charges can be expensive as well, with some students facing fees of up to $100 or more. Deb Bello, who lived in Webb Tower last year, said she was billed $75 for “necessary patching and painting of multiple spots on [her] side of the studio apartment,” which she claims wasn’t the case when she moved out.Other miscellaneous charges resulting from things being left behind were also reportedly severe.Orlando Nieves, a Webb Tower resident during the 2013-2014 school year, said he was charged $90 for leaving a mirror in his bedroom. Similarly, Emile Indik, who lived in Pardee Tower during the same time, said he was billed $100 for leaving clothes in one of his drawers.“I’m assuming [it was] a service charge of moving the clothes to the trash,” Indik said. “However, I don’t plan to pay them. This kind of thing can easily be fought.”For those like Indik who feel the charges are unwarranted and want to fight them, USC Housing does have an appeal process.After students receive an email with an attached receipt of their fees, they have 30 days to make an appeal in writing. Cheung wrote that Housing usually then provides photo evidence of the damage, as well as the room inventory forms that compare the unit during move-in with it during move-out.Student’s response to the appeal process, however, seems to be mixed.Kumar, for instance, mentioned how she and her roommate reached out to Housing within the given time frame, but didn’t hear anything back explaining their charges.“It was pretty obnoxious of [the Housing staff] because we’re still not sure what we were charged for,” she said. “We appealed but we never heard back.“Bethea said she was familiar with stories like Kumar’s, and chose to pay instead of dealing with the appeal process.“It didn’t even feel like it was worth it,” she said.For those who do hear back about their appeals, explanations behind the charges are given with pictures attached documenting said damage.One Fluor Tower resident who wished to remain anonymous shared the pictures housing sent them with the Daily Trojan, and stated they didn’t feel the damage depicted in the photos (smudges on the wall) warranted the fees given.“They basically just sent me pictures of my wall that had smudges on them and said I had to pay it,” the resident said. “I paid $60 for black smudges.”Though the majority of students who came forward were from apartment and suites at Webb and Fluor, Cheung said the frequency of charges depend more on the students living there that year rather than the specific buildings.Nevertheless, the Fluor and Webb complex did reportedly receive a record high number of disputes this year.“We have had one of the busiest summers in years aside from receiving over 200 emails and counting regarding disputes,” wrote Fluor Tower CSC student supervisor Patrick Falcon in response to one student’s appeal. Neither Falcon nor Cheung responded to why there was an increase.While many are viewing these charges as punitive actions, Cheung stressed that these fees shouldn’t be seen as “fines,” but rather maintenance expenses in order to restore the proper conditions to future residents.“It’s … not a ‘fine’ but a cost to return the building/area/room to how it was at move-in,” he wrote. “We believe the incoming residents deserve to have rooms and apartments be in the same condition as they were for the previous residents.”It seems, however, it is not so much the terminology of the charge that confuses residents, but rather what exactly they can be billed for.“We [as residents] weren’t really properly informed … It’s kind of this like boogeyman figure,” Bethea said. “You don’t really have an idea of what’s going to be charged.”last_img read more