EDMONTON – The University of Alberta Studentsâ€™ Union is calling for new regulations to protect students living on campus, after an international student had thousands of dollars worth of her belongings thrown out.
Fourth-year design student Siying Chen, 22, arrived back from her annual summer visit with family in China to find most of her possessions gone from the HUB Mall apartment she has rented for the past three years.
Missing was her 51-inch television, a sewing machine, a Toshiba laptop, snowboards and snowboarding equipment, art supplies for her classes, paintings and drawings from four years of coursework, handmade furniture such as a side table, stool and floor lamp.
Chen emailed residence services on Sept. 5 and received a response saying she was required under her lease agreement to notify Residence Services if she planned to leave her unit for more than 14 days.
â€œWe had no idea if you left and moved out, leaving items behind which so many, many students do, leaving the university to pay for removal of items,â€� the email said.
Some of the items were left in the common area of the four-unit apartment Chen shares with roommates.
â€œWe felt that if the items in the common area were important to someone, then they would have put them in their bedroom for safekeeping while they were away,â€� the email said. â€œTherefore, due to your lack of responsibility these items were considered as trash (left) behind and therefore were all thrown out and removed as garbage as well while the unit was getting cleaned.â€�
Chen said she left items such as her television in the common room to share with her roommates.
She had prepaid her rent for the summer and was enrolled for classes this year, and doesnâ€™t understand why the items were thrown out when she has gone home for summer break every year with no problem.
Chen has replaced some of the items since she needs them for school. However, she hasnâ€™t been reimbursed for any of the belongings that were removed.
â€œIâ€™m very, very helpless,â€� she said. â€œItâ€™s the record of my university life â€¦ Emotionally, itâ€™s like someone used an eraser, has erased something very important of your life.â€�
A spokesperson for the U of Aâ€™s Residence Services wasnâ€™t immediately available Thursday, but Doug Dawson, associate vice-president for ancillary services, said the universityâ€™s policies and procedures governing how studentsâ€™ belongings are handled when they move out were followed in Chenâ€™s case.
â€œWe are committed to constantly improving those policies and procedures and we are committed to enhancing studentsâ€™ experience while here. Situations like this help us identify where and how we can make those improvements.â€�
Chen contacted the U of A Studentsâ€™ Union in early October, but it is difficult to help students in these situations because the residences are basically unregulated, said studentsâ€™ union vice-president Nicholas Diaz, who handles complaints about student housing.
â€œResidence Services (at the U of A) makes the rules and enforces the rules, and thereâ€™s no dispute-resolution mechanism, either,â€� Diaz said.
â€œThe Residential Tenancies Act does not apply to them, so thereâ€™s no law governing their procedures around cleaning, inspections and so forth â€¦ Reimbursement for Siying would have to come from the university wanting to do that.â€�
Over the past six months, Diaz said he has received hundreds of complaints from students about their on-campus housing.
â€œThis case is one student who lost $3,500 worth of property that they will never see again,â€� he said. â€œThis is just one student. This is happening to hundreds of students and not all of them speak up.â€�