HRE’s solution to furniture theft unfair

By By Alicia Williams

By Alicia Williams

Paying for someone else’s mistake is never a good experience. Like the time you walked out of the grocery store to find a dent on the back of your car, or having to dry clean your favorite shirt because the girl next to you on the train dropped her soda. Mistakes happen, but it’s not fair when you have to pick up the tab for someone else’s action.

But that’s exactly what one of the residence halls said would happen after finding that $2,300 worth of furniture was stolen from a common area Oct. 24.

Justin Reuter, a U Housing and Residential Education representative, said the 100 residents would have to fork out the money to replace the furniture if it wasn’t returned by the end of the week.

The housing agreement students are required to abide by if they want to live in the dorm says, “Damage that occurs in the common areas will be assessed and divided among the entire living group of that area, unless HRE is able to identify the persons responsible for the damage.” This was the clause used as a threat to remind the residents that everyone would pay if the furniture wasn’t returned by Friday.

The furniture was eventually returned, but Leah Willis, a Sage Point HRE coordinator, said the staff was never really worried, because they knew all along the furniture was still on the premises. Basically, the threat was a sham used to motivate mischievous residents to bring back borrowed furniture. No harm, no foul.

But if the furniture had really been stolen, representatives for Sage Point said they could have actually held all the residents financially liable. Besides the fact that it would be completely unfair to make everyone pay for damages, accidental or otherwise, made by someone else, it also seems Sage Point representatives believe the word “damage” is a wide umbrella that encompasses the word “theft.”

Not when it comes to their liability, though. The contract specifically states, “HRE assumes no responsibility or liability whatsoever for any loss, destruction, or damage to personal property.” Covering all their bases, they specifically identified “loss” independent of “damage.”

In reality, the agreement clause is listed under “Return of Room” and is referring to the “common areas” found within a room, which the deluxe suites have, and the “entire living group” that would be liable for the damages would be the four renters in that room. So the ploy was another broad reach by Sage Point representatives attempting to encompass all the residents of the complex to put pressure on their fellow tenants to return the furniture.

Debora Threedy, a professor at the S.J. Quinney College of Law, said there could be an argument over the language of damage versus loss, but more importantly, the main argument lies within the contract’s language preceding the above-mentioned clause: “Student shall pay any costs to clean, repair, replace or restore…university property to the extent such damage is caused by Student or Student’s guests.”

The contract does not include any language about loss or damage caused by a third-party theft, and if the furniture had been stolen by someone other than a resident or a resident’s guest, Sage Point representatives could not have held the residents liable. If they knew it was a resident or the resident’s guest, then those people would be held liable, not all the residents.

Threedy said that it appears the contract holds ambiguous language concerning “common areas” and Sage Point representatives were attempting to apply it to common areas of the building instead of the intended area of student apartments. If a judge agreed it was ambiguous, he or she would take testimony from various parties and then decide how it would be interpreted.

Either way, Sage Point representatives should have honestly reported that the furniture was borrowed without permission by building residents and demanded it to be returned. Instead, they chose to exaggerate the story, be evasive with all the facts and threaten liability to all residents as a strong-arm tactic to get the furniture returned.

Honesty is the best policy. Next time, they should rethink their tactics, because it’s not fair to make everyone pay for one person’s mistake, accidental or otherwise.

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Alicia Williams