After an awning attached to the Broadway Building was shattered in December, residents of 35 rooms directly above the damage site were each charged an equal portion of $1,795, the cost of the damages. A similar situation happened in January in which all residents of the building were forced to collectively pay nearly $1,885 for damages to the Broadway fire system. In both these cases, students were charged whether or not they were responsible for the damages, a decision that many students living on campus say is unfair.
After an awning attached to the Broadway Building was shattered in December, residents of 35 rooms directly above the damage site were each charged an equal portion of $1,795, the cost of the damages. A similar situation happened in January in which all residents of the building were forced to collectively pay nearly $1,885 for damages to the Broadway fire system.
In both these cases, students were charged whether or not they were responsible for the damages, a decision that many students living on campus say is unfair.
PSU University Housing’s community billing policy was enforced in these instances because the culprit, or culprits, of each act of vandalism was not identified.
While it is likely that the majority of the students billed for the damages had no participation in the actual vandalism, they were forced to pay because University Housing policy states that if the culprit cannot be identified, the charges are equally distributed to residents on the floor, or in the parts of the building where the damages occurred.
Many University Housing residents disagree with the policy because they believe it is unfair for them to be billed for damages they had no part in causing. Some residents say they will not pay the charges.
“None of us are legally bound to pay for any damage unless there is evidence,” said William Gonzales, a junior and Broadway resident who said he didn’t move into Broadway until after the damage occurred. “I completely, 100-percent refuse to pay for it.”
Irritated by the thought of paying for damage he says he did not cause, Gonzales said if necessary, he would pursue legal action to not pay the charges.
Students are charged for damages, whether or not they caused them, in part to encourage them to bring forth information they might have about who committed the vandalism, said Chris Carter, Broadway hall director.
If University Housing was to cover the cost of every incident of vandalism, instead of using the community billing policy, the housing rates for the following year would most likely increase to counter the amount of money spent, said John Eckman, interim executive director of Housing and Transportation Services.
“A very intentional decision was made that instead of raising everyone’s rates to cover vandalism … it would be that the communities where that vandalism came from would be assessed for it. And that was a way to be equitable,” Eckman said.
Located on the south side of Blue Fin on Jackson Street, the broken awning is believed to have shattered upon impact with a falling object, which Residence Housing Authority President Omar N’ Gadi said was a beer bottle.
Residents in rooms that end in the numbers 40 to 44 from floors three to 10 were charged for the awning.
Ray said the community billing policy is about residents taking responsibility for their community and teaching them citizenship. If the building is damaged in any way, someone must pay for the cost of repair, and students are responsible for the area they live in, he said.
Other Oregon universities, such as the University of Oregon, Oregon State University and the University of Portland, all impose similar policies that charge an entire community of residents if the perpetrators of an act of vandalism are not identified.
One difference between Portland State’s community billing policy and those imposed on other campuses is that University Housing residents have a governmental body called Residence Housing Authority, which holds meetings to discuss and allow residents to vote on issues.
Over the past month, RHA has held three meetings to discuss how they would assess the charges for the aforementioned issues of the shattered awning, fire system tampering and several others like vomit in West Hall and blood splatter in the Broadway.
At the Feb. 11 meeting, several residents expressed their anger about having to pay for acts they had not committed and cited reasons why they are unable to pay the charges, such as a lack of disposable income and not enough notice. Residents expressed their disappointment with the billing, and many sighed loudly and shook their heads throughout the meeting.
On that night, there was a proposal for RHA, which Eckman said receives $20,000 per year to sponsor social events and perform campus beautification projects, to pay for half the cost of the shattered awning and for residents to cover the remainder. After a vote, the motion failed, and it was determined students would be billed for the entire cost of the damages.
Gonzales said he attended one of the RHA meetings where the shattered awning was discussed and made his anger of the situation very clear by storming out in disgust. The university should not charge students for damages they did not commit, he said.
“It’s basically a lump accusation of everyone,” Gonzales said.