Today I met with BYU Housing for about the billionth time about issues I had with my landlord a couple years back. They actually liked what I said and want me to work with their office to create a document that will be handed to every student when they move into a BYU approved unit. (my description of it is near the end).
Here is what my 15 minutes of fame in the Housing Department meeting consisted of:
Thank you for letting me come and talk to you today. Since I have not met many of you let me briefly introduce myself. My name is Bethany Davis and I am from Boise Idaho and the youngest of ten. My parents met at BYU in the sixties and all of my siblings have attended BYU over the last 22 years. I am a BFA student in the Photography department and will be graduating in 2012.
Craig Thomas asked me to come in today to describe my experience with living in off campus housing and how this housing’s office failures to enforce and oversee housing concerns between students and landlords forced me to seek vindication in court.
In May of 2007 I moved into a fairly large complex with around 120 units, each with 4 tenants. I knew that when I moved in that the complex was large and the involvement of management would be different than with a small complex or house, but I had never anticipated the problems that arose.
Early on in my tenancy I began to be frustrated with the way management ran the complex and voiced my concerns to them. It was not uncommon for the management to violate the terms of our housing contracts and in effect trespass by coming into our apartment without proper notice or no notice at all. When we did request maintenance it could take weeks, if they ever came, and the work that was done was shotty to say the least. The apartment was not cleaned thoroughly before my roommates and I moved in, leaving us to clean copious amounts of hair out of our carpet and take a load of items that were not ours to DI. My landlord was also abrasive from the beginning and once called me just to tell me that my roommates would hate me when they moved in. As time went on the problems only escalated.
In August of 2008 I returned from a vacation to find that my front door lock had been changed. There had been a notice placed on my door that said, “stop by the office today to pick up a new key, we are changing the locks.” I called the office to see if they could let me in but they were closed and the automated message said that if you are locked out it is not an emergency and not to contact the emergency number, because of this I had to frantically find a place to sleep at 1:30 in the morning. It was between semesters and many people were out of town. I did not know any girls in my complex so my only option was to sleep on my brother’s floor even though that is against housing rules.
The next morning I went to the office to confront Donnetta Knight, the manager, about the lack of notice for changing the locks. I knew that Utah mandates that the tenants are given written or verbal notice at least 24 hours before such maintenance is done. Donnetta did not seem bothered at all that she had rekeyed a building full of 20-year-old girls without warning them. This being the same summer that a rapist was on the loose in my neighborhood and we had a police officer constantly watching the area, I was even more disheartened by her actions. Seeing that she did not regard the safety of her tenants I sought help through BYU’s Housing Office.
I went to the Housing Office assuming that something could be done but instead I was asked to back down. I was told that if I filed a complaint at BYU Housing against the complex and it led to Carriage Cove losing their accreditation with the University, I would be solely responsible for making around 400 students that currently resided at Carriage Cove find new housing. The Housing Representative also informed me of what a caring person Donnetta was since they were longtime friends.
A few months later I attended the Off Campus Housing Q&A where I voiced my concerns about my landlord still feeling entitled to come into my apartment with no notice whenever she deemed fit. The representatives present asked me to speak with them after the meeting where they collected my information and informed me that they would contact the complex and call me to let me know that something had been done. After trying to follow up a few weeks later with them, they still had not contacted the complex or notified them of my complaint.
In April of 2009 I tried contacting BYU Housing one more time when things had escalated with Donnetta. She started singling me out of my roommates, blaming me for damages in common areas of the apartment and charging me alone to fix them. She also informed one of my roommates that “I don’t know who Bethany thinks she is, she has no rights. If she doesn’t fix this (regarding the ‘damage’ in the apartment) I will ruin her credit and put a hold on her academic account at BYU.” I had never paid my rent late, I was a quiet tenant and left my apartment much cleaner than I found it, and had, in my estimation, lived up to my end of our written housing contract, had respected the rights and property of Carriage Cove and had been a complying and high-caliber tenant and did not deserve this treatment. I told Craig Thomas about this encounter and the things that she said. I knew that Donnetta did not have the power to do either of the things she threatened but I do not take kindly to being threatened. While I was in his office I filed a formal complaint with BYU about the many violations Carriage Cove had committed ranging from harassment to trespassing, to endangering tenants. I then told Mr. Thomas that I would never live in a BYU approved space again because I felt that the landlords were given unlimited power by BYU and were held in higher regard than the students. To my comment he replied, “I don’t blame you,” this left me feeling even more hopeless that the situation had not and would not be being taken seriously. I then asked him what I was supposed to do about the situation and he said, “Well you can try mediation but I can already tell you Donnetta will not go, you could also take them to court. If you win, come back and let us know and we will file it as a claim being validated.”
After being left with no options from BYU other than pursuing vindication and justice via a court of law, I sued Carriage Cove on November 6th, 2009 for violating my privacy and disregarding the wellbeing and safety of their tenants. The Fourth District Court of Provo found my accusations to have merit and a judgment in my favor was awarded me. Carriage Cove was forced to pay my court fees and I was awarded punitive damages in the amount of $200.
Preparing for and going to court was an enlightening experience for me. It was much easier to file in the small claims court than I had anticipated and if you go in with proper documentation of your allegations you have nothing to fear. When I went to court I had a copy of my contract and the BYU Off Campus Housing Guide that had the many infractions I witnessed highlighted, a receipt that showed the actual cost of an item Donnetta claimed I broke and charged me an outrageous amount to replace, notices I had received from Carriage Cove that showed the improper amount of notice for entry given, and past and current tenants who participated on my behalf as witnesses.
Prior to having a judge hear your case you are asked to go to mediation to see if you can work out a solution without the courts. In this meeting Donnetta did not want to discuss any solution other than me dropping the case. She also claimed that she had never, in all her years, received a complaint through BYU and that she had every right to treat me like she did. While I was in the mediation room alone with the mediator, she told me that they usually do not handle cases that involve punitive damage and if the judge listened to my case instead of throwing it out I would be lucky. Apparently the judge saw my claims as substantial and choose to hear our case. In court it became apparent that Donnetta did not document anything at the complex other than contracts that are being signed. She quickly became flustered when she could not back up the answers that she gave the judge and her only defense slowly became trying to convince the judge that I was a terrible, unlikeable person that did not deserve to be treated properly. Her defense was one that had no merit, was strictly based on unsubstantiated personal option and not upon fact, nor was it corroborated by the testimony of others.
Although I found vindication in a court of law, I am not quite sure it was worth my time and energy if significant and meaningful changes are not made here within BYU’s Housing office to help support honor-code-abiding students who are mistreated by the property owners and management companies who do not follow the policies that they have signed on to as BYU-approved landlords.
Though prior to going to court I was told that this was the only way BYU would act upon my complaints, when I turned in my court verdict to this office, I was told that it would be looked into to see if they needed to do anything. From a student’s standpoint, I had assumed the time to investigate such claims were when they were happening and a court verdict means they have been deems valid by a judge and therefore merit action.
Prior to this meeting today, I had met with different members of this office at least five times detailing the problems I had witnessed at my complex and each time I was not taken seriously and left feeling frustrated with the system. I documented everything I was told to and even went the extra mile by going court. In one of those meeting I was asked if the main reason I kept coming back was because of a violation of privacy, my answer was, no, this has become something much more than lack of privacy, this is now about the rights of students. The last time I came in it was also to inform this office that Carriage Cove has made the news recently because of numerous apartments being broken into. Even worse is the fact that if you ask Carriage Cove they won’t deny that they lost a master key to the complex over a year ago and never rekeyed the buildings. This, like when I reported being locked out, comes at a time when this area of Provo was the scene to a horrendous crime where a girl was brutally raped and left for dead on the river trail only a short distance away.
I, sadly, am not an isolated case at BYU. Over the last three years, since I have been more aware of my rights as a tenant, I have heard students talk about the following things happening to them: two students never received a deposit or itemized receipt from the same landlord, one student came home to find a random maintenance man in his apartment and when he confronted the office they told him not to worry about it and blew him off, one student was charged recheck fees for cleaning checks when her apartment was cleaner than when she moved in, one student was charged $100 to replace carpet that was damaged after she moved out-by a can of gasoline that her landlord neglected to remove from the outside storage of the apartment prior to her ever living there, a landlord tried to evict a student for not paying rent when he had-they felt justified because they wanted him to pay the next months rent early, another student had his landlord burst into his apartment without knocking for cleaning checks-he was only in a towel and the people ran around him and did not even give him time or ask if he wanted to put on clothes, 4 girls were each charged over $600 each when they moved out for damages that did not exist and for storage of items that were in there apartment before they moved in.
These instances were not all at one complex but at different areas of Provo showing it happens everywhere. Though these instances were all since 2007, problems like these have been going on for years. In my family alone, this is not the first time we have had major problems with management. In 2003 my brother came to BYU to seek help after his landlord tried to evict him and his roommates without cause. They had been in constant confrontations over a number of things; his landlord came into his apartment without notice many times, vandalized my brothers property and for vengeance only lied to the honor code office that my brother was doing drugs. Though this landlord had the police called on him after he got into an altercation with a tenant and was charged with assault, this office still chose the side of the landlord who was older over my brothers despite the facts at hand.
Some of these students, like my brother, came into this office and others did not. Some of the students that have come to BYU to get resolution for problems told me that they felt more like they were coming to a counselor, a good listener, rather than someone that would enforce housing guidelines. Others said that their concerns were listened to but the person they talked with tried to get them to change their mind about the complaint because they personally knew the landlord and/or alluded to having personal financial interest in the property. Others felt that because there is no form for complaints that when they turn in a concern typed out on normal paper that it is more like a comment for a suggestion box rather than a formal document to a large organization that demands and should enforce high standards.
Students that did not come in to voice their concerns told me that they either didn’t know how since there are no forms available or that they had heard of other students not getting their problems resolved. At this point they would rather move than try to get the problems resolved through BYU. Others also did not feel comfortable complaining since they assume that BYU is constantly checking up on the complexes enforcing standards and that they must be mistaken about their landlord treating them in such a un-church-like way. Many more are choosing to completely avoid the Off Campus scene by applying for housing waivers.
I understand why this system was created. It was created to give students an environment that would uplift them spiritually and academically. It creates housing where all of the tenants have similar beliefs, are living by the same standards, and are in the same social station of life. In theory, this system is flawless. It also extends the comfort students feel in their classes at BYU into their home life. I feel that many students come to BYU with the view that BYU checks out every aspect of their college life for them. They make sure the professors are upstanding saints, that the students are abiding by the Honor Code, and that the housing has been found to also employ the standards of BYU. Unfortunately housing is only a shell; on your website it says: “The university cannot guarantee that owners and managers are employing their best efforts to maintain our standards, that all residents are complying with BYU standards, or that contracted living units meet our physical criteria.” I think it is ironic that students can be kicked out of the university for an Honor Code violation at their home, yet the apartment that they live in is not held responsible to even maintain BYU’s standards. Because of this I feel that students do not realize that they need to be in charge and seek help though the city when they have problems. Once many of them do realize there is a problem, they would generally just move instead of going as far as I did. Many of them back down after confronting their landlord because they are told that their concerns are not important to the landlord and made to feel that they are in fact the ones that have made a mistake.
When I was here last week Craig Thomas and I had brainstormed different options for mass education of the students. One that I feel would be extremely easy to implement would be to create a document that landlords are required, by BYU Off Campus Housing, to give to their tenants when they move in. This document could have the top ten things tenants need to know whether this is their first or 20th apartment. Things that should be included would be landlord’s rights, like the right to enforce the Honor Code and Curfew at the complex etc. It should also include a number of rights of students that are currently and all too commonly violated such as when a landlord has the right to enter the premises to how long a landlord has to give back a deposit or itemized receipt. I feel that if landlords are forced to give a document with information that is worded in common terms vs. legal jargon like the contact, they would be less likely to violate those terms since many more students would realize the injustice and call them out on it earlier. If the form also had a BYU Off Campus Housing header students would feel that BYU is truly involved and if they have a problem they can contact the office. Other documents could also be mandated to be given to tenants such as a Utilities Contract should be given to every unit that does not have utilities included in rent. I, unfortunately did not know that this contract existed until I moved out of my last apartment and was still owed utilities payments by my roommates.
I understand that BYU is frustrated if students do not come to them with problems but students also get frustrated when they feel that they have to do so much to go to this university and are still not taken seriously as adults. Every time I get a new ecclesiastical endorsement I am reminded how there are fewer questions and stipulations to get a temple recommend. I only wish that my landlords also had to go through an equally rigorous interview or at least be required to follow all of the Housing Guidelines.
I thank you again for letting me come to your meeting today to voice my concerns as a student. I am more than happy to answer any questions and aid this office in any way that I can in order to resolve the concerns that fellow students and I have.