Students living at Carlaw Park Student Village and O’Rorke Hall have submitted two separate petitions calling for rent holidays and the removal of cancellation fees.
Before New Zealand went into lockdown last week, an email detailing how the university’s accommodation team would respond to the COVID-19 pandemic was sent to residents. The email said the university would be restricting access to accommodation properties, increasing cleaning of communal facilities, and putting in more alcohol-based sanitisers.
However, the email didn’t specify any changes to the rental fees for students. Those who have created the petitions say this is unfair, as accommodation providers have “fail[ed] to meet their contractual obligations” since “residents who have elected to stay [there] no longer have access to many of the utilities and services”.
Students believe rent – which includes an automatic subscription to the university’s Recreational Centre, a facility which has been closed for a number of weeks – should be lowered or waived to reflect the changing quality of service.
Currently, Carlaw residents who wish to move home during the lockdown period must continue to pay their rent throughout the lockdown. They are also unable to cancel their contract until the lockdown is over, and even then, they must pay a cancellation fee worth four weeks of their standard rent to do so.
The Carlaw Park petition is asking for a rent freeze or reduction for all residents, and the removal of cancellation fees for those who want to cancel their contracts. At the time of publishing, 185 students have signed the petition, addressed to Micheal Rengers, Associate Director, Campus Life (Accomodation).
“Many students feel their mental health is better supported at home with their families, rather than isolated in accommodation. For these reasons, many residents have decided to return home, and are still facing the financial burden of paying rent on their university accommodation.”
“Many students have also lost their jobs and income at the same time.”
“Those relying on Studylink can only receive a maximum of $235.84 per week in living costs, while rent at Carlaw Park Student Village is at least $278.00 per week. Other avenues of financial support, such as the university’s student emergency fund, are also inadequate in covering rent.”
The O’Rorke Hall petition has gained more than 350 signatures since its creation on the 2nd of April, and is demanding that the university “refund all fees during the COVID-19 lockdown”
Victoria University announced last Thursday it had suspended all accommodation contracts, and students will not be charged during the lockdown. While all residents had been advised to leave as soon as possible, those who can’t return home will still be provided accommodation with full catering. The petition for the Carlaw rent holiday says the university “should follow this example”.
One resident at Carlaw Park told Craccum the only information they had from the accommodation was the university would “work through the financial implications of this choice at a later date”.
“From my perspective, that sounded like they understood lots of people were going to leave, and would likely adjust to compensate for this.”
“It was never communicated to me that the cancellation fee for the contract had changed from 25% to only four weeks.”
“Unfortunately, because I Ieft some clothing and bedding there, I can’t withdraw from accommodation until the lockdown ends.”
“If I’m lucky and it is just four weeks, I’ll be paying these four weeks rent, plus the additional four-week cancellation fee – which works out to $2320 – all for a storage room.”
An O’Rorke resident who is also staying home during the lockdown said their family believed it was safer to stay away from accomodation.
“I am forced to pay out of my savings as I cannot work to make ends meet.”
“I currently am uncertain how long we will be under lockdown, and therefore it is not guaranteed I can continue to make full payments in the future.”
“I feel the university should refund those who are not currently staying in the hall at a minimum because we were not well informed about any financial repercussions to begin with.”
The student also added hall staff encouraged students to leave the hall.
Another student living at O’Rorke but staying at home said many people have left the hall and it is hard for the university to justify the $385/week rent because they are not getting food or other services they normally get during the lockdown.
However, it’s not yet clear if the university is considering the petitioned demands. When asked for comment, the University of Auckland told Craccum it is “focussed on supporting students to return home or isolate in the halls, as well as the logistics of moving to teaching on-line and preparing ourselves for the following weeks.”
“We have had comments on the situation from our residents through a range of channels and are working to a resolution.