For almost two weeks, Rachel Silver has been sleeping in a tent in her dorm’s living room.
On Feb. 4, Silver, a sophomore majoring in international affairs, said she was 20 minutes away from campus when she received a phone call from her roommate, Haley Belisle, that water was gushing from under Silver’s bedroom door into the rest of her Kosove Hall apartment.
Silver said she recalls telling Belisle to open the door. When she did, water flooded into the kitchen, living room and bathroom – which she shares with three other females.
After receiving the phone call, Silver said she immediately drove back to campus to discover that a pipe in her room was broken.
“By the time I get back, I get in there and there were probably about 15 people in my room working to drain it. They had a bunch of fans set up and sucking water up,” she said. “There was so much water.”
Though the USF Department of Housing and Residential Education offered to place Silver in another room temporarily, she said she denied the offer because of her job at the Andros dining hall, located next to Kosove.
“The thing is, I’m not going to share my room with a stranger because I work right next to where I live,” she said.
Now, Silver and her family are consulting an attorney to receive reimbursement for water-related damages to her new textbooks, printer and laptop – a reimbursement they were denied.
According to the USF Student Housing Contract, “The University is not liable for damage to or loss of personal property, failure or interruption of utilities, or for injury or inconvenience to persons.”
After the flood, Silver had to take her laptop to be repaired and drained of excess water – which took a week.
“It made me get behind in class. I couldn’t access my online classes,” she said. “I would get pop-ups and I would be on the Internet and it wouldn’t play videos anymore and it would turn off. So it’s really not okay. I got this brand new printer for Christmas and I haven’t even used it. Not a single time. It probably will be okay, it’s just the fact that it has water spots on it and it’s a brand new printer.”
Silver’s grandmother, Carolyne Cole, said the laptop was purchased about a year ago for $600 and the repair costs were $179.
“Between my husband and me we’ve made at least a dozen phone calls,” Cole said. “(The housing department) said that we can fill out an insurance claim, but it would be denied because the University claims no responsibility. They said in the past the company has denied all requests of reimbursement.”
Dean of Housing and Residential Life Education Ana Hernandez said the dorms experience “maintenance issues on a daily basis.”
“Some of them are more intrusive into a student’s room and more (of an) inconvenience than others. So it really depends on what the circumstances are. We work with students on a one-to-one basis,” she said. “If there is an extenuating circumstance, there is a process to request that type of reimbursement through our Environmental Health and Safety Office – a request for loss form that would need to be filled out and that is evaluated to determine if the University will compensate for it.”
Hernandez said she could not comment on specific student circumstances, like Silver’s, but that her department has faced many similar cases.
Silver said that on Feb. 10, six days after the pipe broke in her bedroom, new maintenance workers came into her dorm and informed her that the original worker did not repair her wall correctly.
“They pointed out three or four different mistakes, like he didn’t put down any plaster,” she said. “They ended up saying, ‘Well, since he did all of this wrong, we’re going to have to start over and take down all the painting he has been doing and do it again. Otherwise, it is going to crack in a month or so.'”
Hernandez said the department does its best to fix all known issues during the summer, when it would be less obtrusive for students.
“There is a capacity of what can be done over the course of the summer and there are also limited resources that are available to address some of the maintenance issues and upgrades that we would love to see in housing,” she said. “We try to keep the housing rates affordable and are able to best utilize the best resources that we have.”
Silver said she is not the only one who has had issues with dorm maintenance and that other students need to be aware that they could experience problems.
“I’ve talked to five or six people and they’ve said this has happened to them too,” she said.
But Hernandez said there are reasons behind why there is no public system, such as a website, to provide constant information on work orders and ongoing maintenance issues in dorms.
“We don’t have a system where we would be able to feed that kind of information. Part of the issues that come into play are student identity and things like that in regards to the work order system,” she said. “We try to resolve the issue as they arrive, so that would be our approach is to try to prevent the issue as it happens.”
Silver has to pay $833 per month to live in the Kosove Apartments, or $3,332 each semester, according to the housing website.
After taking out $5,000 in student loans to live on campus and have a meal plan, which is mandatory for first time college students, she said she has not received the housing experience she was hoping for.
“I’m that weird roommate that lives in the living room now,” she said.
Apart from the flood in her bedroom, Silver said the electric outlets in her dorm do not work and her freezer defrosts her roommate’s food. She said she is in the process of placing work order forms to fix these problems.
“The reason why I took this $5,000 loan is so that I could have a kitchen so I can cook my own food. The kitchen that I have doesn’t even work and the room that I have floods,” she said. “If you’re going to force me to live in these conditions, give me a warning.”
Cole said that the family is not going to let the maintenance issues rest.
“I just feel that nobody is looking at the fact that there is a whole history of problems like these in the dorms – with water pipes breaking, of ceilings collapsing and floodings taking place,” she said. “I just don’t understand how the University can just continue to say, ‘We’re going to make you live in the dorms, but we’re not responsible for anything that can happen to you once you’re there.'”
Cole said the family’s next course of action will be determined by what they learn from their attorney.