Monday, December 05, 2005

Working for the BYU Housing Office

BYU Housing

I worked in the BYU Off Campus Housing office for two years (August 2003 – 2005). Working for BYU Housing was a great job, offering experience in recognizing and solving some crazy apartment problems.

BYU students face some very strange problems living in ancient BYU apartments—leaky roofs, backed-up sewage lines, rats and mice who refuse to pay rent, mold, rotting walls, ceilings that collapse, and old window and door locks that are easily lock-picked (if you want me to show you how, I’d be happy to give a demonstration. I’ll also show you how to make your apartment a little more safe and secure). obbery is actually quite high in BYU housing, because so many students leave apartments unlocked and trust everyone.

Over the last two years, I inspected literally hundreds of apartments to see if they still pass the BYU Housing Minimum Specifications, and inspect student complaints. The most common complaints from girls were mold problems, dirty carpet turning their feet black, mice, and intrusive landlords entering their apartment without notice. Guys tend to complain about mold, intrusive landlords, poor quality beds and couches, and lack of study space (BYU Housing Approval requires six square feet of study space per student).

In old Provo Utah apartments, mold reigns as king, followed close behind by bad landlords, poor management, dead smoke detectors, missing electrical outlet covers, and missing window locks and screens. Many old BYU apartments only have single-pane windows that neither keep out much noise or cold. With so many apartments falling apartment, any landlord that actually makes repairs is a great blessing to BYU Housing.

Instead of letting free markets encourage landlords to make repairs to stay competitive, the BYU housing office actually limits the number of available rental units. BYU imposes strict regulations on any landlord who wants his/her place BYU approved. (Reportedly, BYU began regulating housing in Provo after WWII when students were living in coal bins and doghouse style apartments). BYU approved housing complexes are required to enforce the Honor Code (including no two-piece swim suits and a midnight curfew on weeknights for visitors of the opposite sex). BYU approved housing must also pass the Minimum Specifications Standards (furnishing apartments with beds, couches, chairs, and tables; complying with Provo City Zoning; providing suitable living conditions, and separating men’s and women’s apartments) and BYU reserves the right to revoke anyone’s BYU Approval for any reason. BYU housing regulations are designed to keep Provo apartments fully occupied. When vacancies increase (and student rent prices drop) BYU Off Campus Housing simply imposes new regulations.

BYU Housing stays actively involved in trying to control the BYU housing market. BYU helps control rent prices in Provo Utah, with their power to decide which apartment complexes are given "BYU Approval" and which complexes are not approved. When you make the rules, own the game board, and own all the pieces, you win. It’s kind of a fun game for BYU. No one dares engage this colossal giant in battle, and BYU loves winning. Let's just hope BYU keeps playing fair.

Saturday, December 03, 2005

BYU Housing Changes Wyview into Singles Housing

BYU HOUSING PROBLEMS WORSEN

President Samuelson—Master Strategist—Changes Wyview into Single Student Housing

The 2-mile BYU boundary appears to have been a strategic move to force students back into the dorms. The boundary will eliminate as many as 300 apartments from the BYU approved housing system. Now BYU has unveiled Part II of its master plan—evict married students and cash in on higher single student rents.

Provo City has jumped on the bandwagon to help BYU by starting to enforce zoning laws limiting many houses and condos to only 3 occupants. Provo Zoning and BYU’s new boundary are making single student housing options quickly disappear. Not suprisingly, single student rental prices are shooting upward rapidly. The BYU Solution? Cash-in before helping-out.

The Daily Universe, BYU’s newspaper, reported tenants’ angry responses after BYU officials delivered 200 eviction notices to current Wyview families:

“We feel trapped and helpless, and it’s the worst feeling in the world,” Kattie Mount said. Kattie and Allan Mount were married about eight months ago. They both are undergraduates, and both expected to live at Wyview Park until they graduate in a few years.

Although BYU housing officials held a meeting Thursday for Wyview residents, Kattie said she thinks there wasn’t enough notice for the meeting. Most of the residents who attended the meeting found out through a mass e-mail that was sent out about an hour before the meeting, she said. Kattie and Allan were both working and didn’t find out about the meeting until later in the evening through friends.

“We were not meant to be there,” Kattie said. “They were just covering their bases. We all feel duped because they went behind our backs. They were being very underhanded.”

Nicole Douglas and her family recently moved to Wyview, where they planned on living until her husband finished graduate school. Douglas said, “We were planning on living here for three years, and now we have to move all over again.”

Affected residents living in the 192 apartments that will be used for single students next year were sent e-mails, informing them of a “meeting to discuss future changes” at Wyview.

“When we arrived, we were told the meeting’s real purpose,” Douglas said. “The decision had already been made. We had to move out by next July [2006] so that the married housing could go to single students. There was no room for discussion.”

[See the full articles at “http://newsnet.byu.edu/story.cfm/56499” and “http://newsnet.byu.edu/story.cfm/56492”]

Thursday, December 01, 2005

BYU Housing Boundary

BYU HOUSING 2-MILE BOUNDARY

Forget Economics! The BYU Housing Office Runs the Show in Provo Utah.

Brigham Young University (BYU) strictly regulates its BYU approved housing to protect the undergraduates. What started as a few rules and policies to promote the BYU Honor Code and better housing conditions, has now turned into a powerful Goliath.

The Off-Campus Housing (OCH) office announced in Fall 2003 that BYU would be reducing its approved BYU housing boundary to roughly 2 miles around campus in April 2007. This geographic limitation was designed to force students to live closer to the university, after an Honor Code office study showed more Honor Code violations occur farther away from campus. BYU used the Honor Code study as a shield to defer attention from a bigger problem BYU landlords were facing. Student rental prices were dropping and vacancies were rising to a 5 year high. By limiting the geographic area where students would be allowed to live, students could be squeezed again with higher rent prices.

BYU effectively shot itself in the foot with the boundary. BYU landlords who previously competed for students' money will now have a secure income, if their property lies in the new BYU boundary. With no need to stay competitive with improvements and repairs, the housing supply will become old and broken down. New York City tried a similar plan with their rent ceilings limiting maximum rent prices. Owners stopped renovating and building new apartments and the city saw many blocks turn into slums and ghettos. How many more BYU apartments will need to become slum-like before BYU repeals the boundary?

Tuesday, November 29, 2005

Security Deposit Refunds

At the end of occupancy, the landlord can only charge the tenant for damages to restore what was damaged to its condition at the beginning of occupancy. Thus, if the carpet is damaged by the renter and the carpet was 10 years old, the landlord can not charge the tenant the cost of putting in brand new carpet. The landlord can only charge the tenant a reasonable market value of the 10 year old carpet. Renters are only responsible for damage to the premises beyond ordinary wear and tear. A good guideline in determining ordinary wear and tear is “Was the property used or abused?” Renters are responsible for reasonable cleaning of the apartment upon termination of tenancy.

Utah renting law requires the owner to “return the security deposit to the renter within 30 days of termination of tenancy or within 15 days after receipt of the renter’s new mailing address, whichever is later, or send a written statement explaining why the deposit or any part of it is being withheld. The renter must notify the owner or agent of the location where payment and notice may be made or mailed.”

“If the landlord or agent in bad faith fails to return the deposit within the legal limits described above, the law provides for recovery of the deposit in full as well as a civil penalty of $100 and court costs. However the landlord must receive the renter’s new address within 30 days of termination of tenancy for this law to be effective. In such case, the renter should respond in writing. It is wise to respond by registered or certified mail and keep a copy of your letter” (See the pamphlet “Rental Deposits” printed by the BYU Off-Campus Housing office).

Thursday, November 24, 2005

Dangerous BYU Contracts

Here are some interesting rules about contracts: Verbal agreements are often legally binding, so be careful before you commit to renting from a landlord. Any rental contracts for more than 12 months must be in writing to be legally binding.

The landlord may own the property, but rental contracts grant the tenants “peaceful possession of the premises,” which can be a powerful tool to restrict the landlord’s ability to enter the apartment. Landlords also have to give 12 hours written notice (according to BYU rental contracts) or 24 hours written notice (according to Utah renting rules).

If a tenant abandons the rental unit before the end of the lease agreement, the landlord is required to make a reasonable effort to find a replacement tenant. If the landlord finds a replacement tenant, the landlord cannot charge the previous tenant for the rent paid by the new tenant (i.e. the landlord cannot earn double rents).

When a tenant sells their contract to someone else, the previous tenant should obtain a written release from the rental contract. The new tenant should sign a new contract with the landlord, and not just sign on the old contract above the previous tenant’s name. Signing above the previous tenant’s name can give the landlord the ability to hold both tenants jointly liable.

Signing a month-to-month contract gives both the renter and landlord more flexibility, but either party can terminate the agreement for any agreement with proper written notice. The landlord can terminate the agreement in any month, or raise the rent any month they want.

Monday, November 21, 2005

Bad Landlords II and Broken Contracts

If my landlord breaches our rental contract, can I get out of my BYU contract?

Students are not automatically released from their contract, even if the landlord breaches the rental contract. BYU single students should use arbitration in the BYU Conflict Resolution office before they take actions against the landlord, stop paying rent, or move out. The Conflict Resolution office helps students take the appropriate legal course of action.

Students can be released from their contract if they find a suitable replacement tenant. In some cases, students graduating or going on internships required for their major can give 120 days written notice to the landlord and terminate their contract at the end of the 120 day period. The student will often lose their security deposit, but not owe any more rent after the 120 day period.

Saturday, November 19, 2005

Bad Landlords and Maintenance Problems

There are three types of maintenance problems: Minor Problems, Major Problems, and Emergencies. Emergencies must be taken care of by the landlord within 24 hours. Emergencies are situations that threaten the healthy and/or safety of the residents, such as gas leaks, no heat in the apartment, flooding, and fire. Major problems affect the students’ lives, but do not pose a health or safety hazard. Major problems include non-functioning water heaters and clogged drains. Minor problems still need to be addressed by the landlord, but are not urgent concerns.

If any of these three maintenance problems are occurring in your rental, you should first contact the landlord or manager. Many students call BYU Off-Campus Housing to complain their landlords won’t fix things, without ever telling the landlord when something breaks. It is the renter’s responsibility to inform the landlord of problems. If the landlord says he/she will fix the problem, ask what date the repairs will be done by. If the landlord refuses to fix the problems, a letter should be written to the landlord and the tenant should keep a copy. In the letter, be courteous, but firmly tell the landlord you will request help from BYU Off-Campus Housing if the problem isn’t resolved promptly. Give the landlord a reasonable amount of time to make the repairs. If the landlord fails to respond, take your copy of the letter and visit the BYU Off-Campus Housing Office in room 2170 of the BYU Wilkinson Center.