Waive UGA's housing contract cancellation fee

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The University of Georgia claims to prioritize the health and well-being of its students, yet continues to charge an unreasonable fee for those wishing to cancel their housing contract. The policy currently in place is standard protocol, but the circumstances we find ourselves in due to COVID-19 produce challenges and health risks that can’t be adequately addressed by standard protocol. In light of this, we are calling for UGA to waive the housing contract cancellation fee. 

UGA’s current housing contract states that “The student must pay a contract cancellation fee equivalent to 50% of the remaining portion of the License Fee (as defined below) for the assigned space for the entire contract period.” Basically, this means that if a student wants to cancel their year-long housing contract, they will be forced to pay an entire semester’s worth of housing as a fee—a cost which could range from $2,454 to $4,136. For the majority of UGA students, this is too great a financial burden, giving them no choice but to live on campus despite the increased risk. 

UGA should be taking steps to limit the amount of students in the dorms, not making it financially impossible for students to leave. Their cancellation policy only increases the number of students in the dorms, which in turn makes it harder to socially distance and increases risk of exposure for everyone on campus. Simply put, this policy is very concerning. 

In response to criticism of their policy, UGA Housing has relied on the fact that they already offered an opportunity to cancel a housing contract free of cost. However, this grace period was only offered during the small window of May 19th through May 27th, a time in which the future was extremely uncertain: the University hadn’t released specific information about plans for reopening, and it was impossible to predict COVID-19’s progression. If as late as July 24th the University still didn’t have answers to questions such as how students will get food when quarantining in their dorms, how were we supposed to make an informed decision about whether or not to stay on campus in May? 

According to data reported by the New York Times, the 7 day average of COVID-19 cases in Georgia on May 27th (the last day of the grace period) was 650. On July 26, it was 3,240. On average, there are over five times as many cases now as there were when students had to decide whether to take advantage of the grace period, and with this increase in cases comes an immense increase in risk. Students should be able to update their decision in light of this new information rather than being forced to stand by a choice they had to make when it was impossible to know the facts.

We are calling for UGA to waive the housing contract cancellation fee for the safety of students and staff, as it forces incoming residents to choose between their health and a massive financial burden. It is unreasonable to ask students to forego an entire semester’s worth of housing costs—many students are simply unable to afford this and may be forced into an unsafe living situation as a result. In addition, many students will be taking a majority of online classes and shouldn’t feel pressured to return to campus and put their health at risk just so they don’t lose thousands of dollars in housing fees. 

Our health and safety as students, faculty, and staff is worth more than a couple thousand dollars. Waiving the cancellation fee is the safest option for everyone on campus, and UGA’s refusal to do this suggests that their bottom line is more important to them than their commitment to the students and staff that this institution relies on to exist. It is our firm belief that the best way to prioritize student health and well-being is to empower students to make their own decisions about their health rather than limiting their options with an undue financial burden.