Rental agreements and mediation processes should guarantee certain residential living standards in BYU-approved housing.
Students have recourse if they feel their living standards are being violated, but many violations go unreported.
“I’d be willing to bet my own money that some students’ grades had been affected by the living conditions,” said Kenneth Rush Sumpter, director of the Honor Code Office.
Some students are scared to go home, Sumpter said. “That should not happen at BYU, but it does.” Many students fear revenge — physical or otherwise — if they report roommates to the Honor Code Office, he said.
Sumpter said that near the end of the March, he expects an increased amount of referrals to the Honor Code Office because of the many students reporting roommates whom they will not have to live with for much longer.
Students also report roommates to building managers for violating the Honor Code.
Managers, who have the responsibility to “exercise reasonable effort to maintain the BYU Residential Living Standards,” have a few options when they receive a complaint, according to the contract with BYU for all approved off-campus housing.
Mediation and arbitration processes exist to help students settle disputes with landlords and other students. The Off-Campus Housing Office acts as the neutral third party in these processes.
“Part of the problem with the arbitration board is they want to make everyone happy, but they can’t,” said Gaylun Smith, property manager of Centennial, Centennial II and Roman Gardens apartments.
Smith said that he has a system for dealing with reports of Honor Code violations:
He first sends a written warning restating the residential living standards for BYU approved housing.
Smith also obtains written statements from roommates of the alleged offender.
He then acts according to the accused student’s response to the evidence obtained from the investigation.
“I try to go with the preponderance of the evidence,” Smith said. If enough evidence is gathered against a student, his first option is to evict.
Smith said that students receiving eviction notices can respond by leaving, by refusing to leave or by talking to him and trying to come to an agreement.
If a student refuses to leave, Smith said, he immediately gets an attorney and begins formal eviction hearings.
However, Smith said that he is willing to withdraw an eviction notice in some cases if accused students convince him that they will not violate the residential living standards again, and if they bring him a letter from their ecclesiastical leader affirming their promise.
He said that sometimes roommates will want to have another roommate evicted because he or she is annoying, not necessarily because residential living standards have been violated.
“If someone is legitimately being railroaded by roommates, there’s not much anyone can do about it,” Smith said.
He said he likes to live under the assumption that most people will tell the truth — but that is not always the case.
Darren Beck, property manager of the Riviera apartments, said he goes through a similar process in dealing with Honor Code violations.
He has roommates or other witnesses write statements to ensure the report is valid. Beck also said that reports have been made a few times without a real violation having occurred when other roommates simply didn’t like the reported roommate.
Beck said that he tends to evict without giving additional chances to offending residents because he does not want to risk losing status as BYU-approved housing. But, he also said mistakes or injustice usually are well mediated by the Off-Campus Housing Office, which tends to work out an agreement protecting both sides of the dispute.
Overall, Beck said, he has not had many experiences with Honor Code violations at the Riviera; most people are evicted from the apartments for not paying rent.
If a student does not feel that his or her landlord is making a reasonable effort to maintain residential living standards, he or she should report this to the Off-Campus Housing Office. H. John Pace, manager of the Off-Campus Housing Office, said that the office holds managers responsible for maintaining standards.
Pace said that the building managers are given notice and sufficient time to correct any existing problems. But, if the problems are not remedied, the landlords have broken their contract with BYU, and they can lose their status as approved BYU housing.
The housing office’s student-landlord rental agreement outlines the process for settling disputes between landlords and BYU student tenants. Both parties agree to “make a good-faith effort to settle such controversy through mediation” and to abide by the BYU housing mediation rules.
The first step, according to pamphlets produced by the Off-Campus Housing Office, is to talk about the problem with all the parties involved; litigation should be the last resort.
One way to talk about the problem is through a mediation process, in which the housing office acts as a neutral third party in resolving the conflict. A case worker for the housing office will be assigned to each case after a form requesting mediation is submitted.
If the mediation process fails to bring the conflicting parties to a resolution, either of the parties involved may apply for arbitration with BYU’s Housing Arbitration Board.
This board provides legally binding resolutions to problems after a hearing by a three-member panel comprised of a faculty member with a law degree, a student and a landlord, Pace said.