Today I and at least 21 of my fellow residents received eviction notices from our dorm.
“Dorm” isn’t exactly the right word for it, but “residential academic community” is a mouthful. The University of British Columbia’s Green College is supposed to be more than just a place to live, with a strong academic component and strong self-governance. It also has the reputation for having better food: the ten meals per week are provided by the Green College Dining Society, a non-profit owned and run by the residents.
At least, that’s how it is supposed to work. On 28 July, after being repeatedly assured by the Principal that there would be “no substantive changes”, we were all given a new contract and told to sign in two business days. In addition to switching from being month-to-month to term-based, the new contract has a number of onerous terms. Many of them would not be legal if they were in a private landlord’s contract, but UBC has a blanket exemption from the BC Tenancy Act.
The new contract:
- Has a clause that the administration can change the terms of the contract at will with a week’s notice. (That’s not a contract, that’s an oath of fealty!)
- Has a long list of prohibited behaviors that are grounds for behavior, which if enforced, would mean that everybody could be evicted. Prohibited behaviors include but are not limited to:
- Any noise that is audible from outside the room. Walking around, moving chairs, and calling, “Who’s there?” would all thus be grounds for eviction.
- Having a party on any day at any time except for Friday and Saturday night, or without prior notice to the Resident Advisor. Parties are defined as alcohol, seven or more people, noise. (The contract does not specify if there is an AND or an OR joining those clauses!) This means that if seven people go down to the TV room to watch a hockey game on Sunday afternoon, they cheer their team, and one person has a beer, it is a violation worthy of eviction.
- Open (which apparently means, as in the US, unsealed) liquor containers in the hallways. Thus to bring a half-empty bottle of wine from one room to another would be an eviction-worthy violation. (I guess they would rather we finish it off.)
- If evicted, you still have to pay your rent.
- Says that we have to adhere to documents that do not exist.
- Has a cancel-with-no-penalty date that is two weeks before we got the contract.
- Gives the administration the right to enter our rooms with no notice for almost any reason.
- Gives the administration the right to make us change rooms whenever they feel like it, with minimal notice.
- Says that if the administration changes the meal plan, then we have to sign up for the new meal plan at whatever cost and whatever level of service they switch to. This gives them a way to dissolve that pesky student-run Green College Dining Society and further erode self-governance.
- Says that if there is a catastrophe such that our rooms are unlivable, we still have to pay rent and meal plan. (This was also in the previous contract, but with a month-to-month lease, there was a much lower financial risk.)
- Researchers who lose their eligibility (i.e. turn in their thesis) have only three days to move out, and must pay a penalty of 25% of the semester’s cost for doing so. (This makes short-term stays, e.g. for visiting research scholars, difficult.)
- Explicitly promises nothing except for a mattress pad and internet access.
- Drinking games are not permitted. Shared-container alcohol (like a punchbowl) is not permitted at parties.
- Acting as a host to someone who has been evicted is itself an evictable offense.
In addition, it limits which rooms couples with one partner being a non-student can live in, thus effectively limiting the number of non-student partners. This is an end run around the student-run Membership Committee.
I have the impression that many of these clauses are ones that they have no intention of enforcing. (In fact, the Principal has already issued contracts to two couples with non-student partners who do NOT live in one of the two couples rooms.) This seems strange to me: if you do not plan to enforce the rules, you shouldn’t write them into the contract. Maybe they think that writing the rules into the contract means that they are covered in the case of liability, but I would think that if it is patently obvious that they cannot enforce the rules as written, then I would think that a jury could be persuaded that the rules effectively did not exist.
We have tried reasoning with the acting Dean of the Faculty of Graduate Studies (who has traditionally overseen Green College), Housing, and Legal. While the Dean seems sympathetic, Housing and Legal are resolute: “The University does not negotiate contracts.” (Um. Didn’t they just negotiate contracts with the Teaching Assistant’s Union?)
I am puzzled by the university’s response — it seems to me like the university is dangerously under-reacting. Apparently, the University is exempt from the BC Tenancy Act because they need to be able to discriminate against non-students, which is prohibited by the Tenancy Act. However, they really seem to be abusing their exemption. It seems to me that this would leave them vulnerable to the assertion that they should not get a blanket exemption, but rather only exemptions from specific, targeted clauses.
Mostly, however, I am sad. Green College seemed like such a bright, shiny place when we applied. From talking to alumni, it sounds like it used to be a really neat institution. But while I am really impressed by my fellow residents, the institution seems to be sliding into greyness.