Three men charged for Sunnyside Dumpster fire / News Round-Up

Here’s a quick round-up of one local story about Sunnyside and some other stories from around the country involving off-campus student housing.

Morgantown Police charge 3 men for Morgantown Dumpster fire – WBOY

Three men were served warrants over the weekend for pouring gas on a Dumpster fire in Sunnyside at the corner of Beverly Avenue and Fourth Street around 3 a.m. on March 11. Brendan Schweer, 23, Michael Howell, 23, and Corey Burns, 23, face malicious burning charges, which is a misdemeanor. According to WBOY, if they are convicted, the three would face a minimum $1,000 fine and have to reimburse the city for any costs of fighting the fire. Schweer and Howell are listed as students in West Virginia University’s directory, and Burns is listed as an athletic tutor. WVU has said it will consider suspending or expelling students who are charged with starting fires. However, WVU will not identify students who have been expelled or suspended.

Program makes bills easier between roommates – The Daily Texan

The company, Simple Bills, was created in 2008 by Baylor University students. All roommates must sign up, and the company will equally divide the bills and send the statements. Students will just pay once per month to cover all their utility bills. They do charge a fee for using the service. For Morgantown, each roommate would pay $4 per month. The purpose of the service it to try to prevent friends from fighting while trying to collect bills.

Housing to do preventative bedbug sweeps, focus on education – Daily Nebraskan

The University of Nebraska-Lincoln experienced a major bedbug problem in its dorms this year. In order to get rid of the bedbugs and to make sure they don’t come back, the housing department will fund two sweeps of the residence halls, in May and August. The sweep is estimated to cost between $35,000 and $40,000. Housing Director Sue Gildersleeve said that the university will also provide educational materials to students prior to move-in and will educate students about bedbugs early in the fall.

If you want to see where bedbugs have been reported in Morgantown, check out The Bedbug Registry.

The off-campus rental trap – BuffaloNews.com

A leasing agent told students if they signed a lease and paid a refundable $200 deposit to save an apartment, they wouldn’t be bound to anything because nothing would be final until their parents signed the lease papers. The leasing agent then kept pushing that whoever signed the form first would get a free t-shirt. Once the parents checked out the lease and decided it wasn’t right for their sons, they found they couldn’t get out of the lease as easily as promised. They were told the lease was binding, it would cost each tenant a $200 release fee and they would be responsible for finding new tenants to take their place.

Apartment hunting tips for college students – Chicago Tribune

Most students in Morgantown may have already signed their leases for the next school year, but I know that one year I waited until April to find a new place (and it was super stressful and I signed the lease on the first place I found. But I stayed there for two years because it wasn’t too bad of an apartment). For those procrastinators, this article may be of some help when they decide to start looking.

– Leann

Charleston Daily Mail story talks about mold legislation

If you’ve been keeping up with Inspecting Sunnyside, the issues with mold and bedbugs in Morgantown aren’t new to you.

In today’s Charleston Daily Mail, there’s an article about House Bill 4425, which addresses the issue of mold in rental housing.

The full article is available here – Bill tackles continuing mold issue

According to the article:

The state House of Delegates unanimously passed a bill last week that would require landlords to address mold problems when they are reported. It is now before the Senate Judiciary Committee. Under normal Senate rules, the bill would have to pass the committee by Wednesday to be voted on by Saturday, the last day of the regular session.

One part of the story that’s a bit disheartening is the writers of the original bill said the current version has been watered down. The amended version no longer allows for a tenant to break his or her lease if the landlord does not address the problem and the home is uninhabitable.

Introduced version:

Committee substitute:

I’ll make sure to keep checking on the status of the bill tomorrow and updating when I can.

– Leann

WVU’s Student Legal Services offers help with numerous off-campus housing issues

Students who are having issues with their leases or landlords may feel like they have no option for help since they can’t afford a lawyer. However, West Virginia University’s Student Legal Services can help students with their problems at no extra charge.

Legal services are included as part of students’ fees, so you can’t really refer to the assistance as being free, but students don’t have to pay anything else when they receive help.

Student Legal Services is located in the basement of E. Moore Hall on the Downtown Campus. It’s kind of hidden, but there are plenty of signs to lead students there.

I spoke with Carrie Showalter, attorney for students, and Brian Walker, community coordinator with the Office of Student Life.

Throughout the school year, Showalter said there are varying trends of why students visit the office. During the beginning of the year they’ll be seeking help with maintenance issues. Toward the beginning of the spring semester is usually when students start bringing leases in for review. Near the end of the school year and summer, there’s many issues with security deposits.

Here are a few of the most popular services students seek:

Lease review – Showalter said students can bring in copies of leases before they are signed to make sure they understand them. She stressed that if a landlord says they will repair or replace something before the tenant moves in, that needs to be in writing on the lease before it is signed.

Move-in and move-out checklists – Students need to document what things are damaged in the apartment within 5-10 days of signing the lease. This can be problematic because most students sign leases months before actually moving in. Showalter said the students should do a walk-through after signing the lease so the landlord can’t keep a security deposit to repair something that was broken before the student moved in.

Utility bills – Showalter said she sees many students come in with utility overcharges. Sometimes it may be an issues with a leak, and they can help the students look into what is causing the unexpected increase.

Security deposit issues – Students can seek help if they believe it’s taking too long to get their deposit back after moving out or if they think they weren’t given back enough money.

Student Legal Services will contact landlords on behalf of students and have also represented students in magistrate court, Showalter said. Sometimes it may take one meeting to solve an issue, and sometimes it’s taken as long as 18 months.

One landlord, who Showalter didn’t name, was renting out apartments he didn’t own. Students paid their first month rent and security deposit and then found someone already living there when they attempted to move. The same landlord also double rented some apartments he did own; for example, someone may have signed a lease that ran from May until May, but the person currently living in there had signed a lease that wasn’t up until August.

Showalter confirmed that bedbugs are definitely an issue in Morgantown, as I previously reported. She’s dealt with two cases involving bed bugs – one at a small house and one at a large housing complex.

It’s difficult to identify a source when it comes to bed bugs, Showalter said. They can be brought in by someone who has traveled, but it’s difficult to prove that. If they are unable to prove that a student brought them in, it is typically considered the property owner’s responsibility to fix the problem.

In both cases Showalter dealt with, the landlords took care of the bed bugs, which is an expensive and lengthy process. Exterminators usually require a one-year contract to completely get rid of the bed bugs, she said.

The other buzz word in off-campus housing – mold – wasn’t really an issue until this year, Showalter said. Now, she sees students who are both having serious mold issues and those who are trying to use it as an excuse to break their lease.

I have a lot more information from my talk with Showalter and Walker. In the next post, I’ll discuss more about what type of assistance WVU’s Off-Campus Housing department can offer.

– Leann