House passes bill to speed up student evictions

By Rochelle McConkie

The U’s Residence Halls might be able to evict students who are not paying their leases or are no longer attending classes without going to court, if the Senate approves a bill that the Utah House of Representatives passed Tuesday.

U administrators are supporting House Bill 343, which would exempt university housing from state eviction laws, because the U is not a traditional landlord and students are not traditional tenants. Passing this law would speed up the eviction process for residents who are no longer students or who violate the housing contract so that Housing and Residential Education can fill these spots with students abiding by the rules. The bill passed unanimously.

“With this bill we can house people we want to house, and that’s students,” said Jerry Basford, associate vice president for Student Affairs and interim director of HRE.

Kim Wirthlin, vice president for Government Relations, said there are 35 students living in the Residence Halls who are in violation of the housing contract and refuse to leave. Right now, the U must undergo a lengthy and often expensive judicial process to evict the students, she said.

Bill sponsor Rep. Paul Neuenschwander, R-Bountiful, told representatives that the eviction process for these 35 students requires 144 hours of work on the part of HRE employees. If the situation is turned over to the attorney general for a judicial procedure, it takes HRE at least another four hours, and 119 hours for the attorney general’s office. The process costs the state about $17,500.

“We would like to speed up that process,” Basford said.

If the bill passes, HRE would be able to create a process that gives students due process by providing them notice of their eviction, time for compliance and a hearing on campus. If the student refuses to cooperate, HRE could evict them without going through the court system.

“We’re not arguing whether students have rights,” Basford said. “They will go through all of the normal rights. The challenge is when they quit paying and stop being a student.”

Neuenschwander said all state institutions of higher education, public and private, and the State Board of Regents support this legislation.

He said HB 343 does require universities to provide due process for students.

“Student rights will be protected,” Neuenschwander said. “This is only for those students who are sideways with (the) university on lease agreements in student housing. If a student feels mistreated, there is a redress process.”

Wirthlin said the new law would allow students on a waiting list for the Residence Halls to move in more quickly, so the U would be able to accommodate students willing to abide by the housing contract.

Twenty-four states have university housing exemptions to eviction laws. Wirthlin said she expects the Senate to pass the bill without controversy.

“Really we’re just trying to say that we have different issues (than statewide landlords),” Basford said. “We are different than most tenants because our purpose is housing for students.”

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