Erasmus Fury at Residence Rip Off

Originally published in Volume II, Issue 4 on 8th November 1995 by Observer Reporter. Excessive deductions from deposits, unrealistic ESB bills and veiled intimidation for non-payment of rent are among the complaints being lodged to the University Observer by Erasmus students who stayed in the Belgrove and Merville residences last year. In the past eight weeks, students from France, Spain, Sweden, Italy, and Belgium have contacted us about what they see as unwarranted poor treatment at the hands of the residence authorities. Most of the complaints centre around the issue of deposits. Every student who takes up residence in UCD pays a £125 deposit. At the end of the year, the residence authorities return this sum minus the final ESB bill and any deductions for cleaning expenses or breakages. It is these deductions and the manner in which they are made that has aggrieved the foreign students. Pepe Cacheda Barreiro, a Spanish student who stayed in Belgrove last year, was charged £53 for cleaning and breakages although he was the last person to leave his flat and claims that it was in a as clean a state as when he moved in. Despite the fact that his ESB bill averaged £35 during the winter months, he was charged £53 for the final period up to June. Swedish student Anna Westlund was charged £10.25 for a refuse bin which she says was not missing and £16.25 to replace a frying pan which she claims had only suffered normal wear and tear. £10 was deducted for not returning her keys, although she says she did so before returning home. The University Observer contacted household supplies shop, All Rooms, who quoted prices up to 84% cheaper than those charged to residents for replacements of items of similar quality (primarily kitchen utensils). Spanish student Ana Gimeno sent us a copy of a letter which she sent to Mr. Nichol in August, contesting the £47.87 she was charged for apartment damage and cleaning, in which she requested a more detailed explanation and information about the appeal process. She has not yet received a reply. When contacted by the University Observer concerning Ms. Gimeno’s complaints, Residence Administrator Mr. Tony Nichol said that he would be very surprised if she hadn’t got a reply. Mr. Nichol initially told this reporter that £63.60 had been charged to Ms. Gimeno’s flat, meaning she should have to pay £21.20. However, upon verifying the figure with his spreadsheet, Nichol said that indeed she had been charged £47.87 and that the initial figure was just a provisional figure he had “doodled” himself. He said that cleaning and breakages expenses of £143.61 were quite plausible for an apartment, especially if items such as pots and pans had been replaced. One Italian student had a complaint of a different nature. He had not paid the second instalment of his rent by May due to problems with the wire transfer from Italy and was then visited by Mr. Nichol. The student explained the difficulties, but says that his case was not believed. The Residence Administrator told him that he had to pay up immediately and that “he wouldn’t like to talk to his examiners”. The student interpreted this as a threat and went to the exam office where he was reassured that the accommodation office could have no influence on his results. When asked about this, Mr. Nichol said that all that he would have said was that if the student had an outstanding account, his or her exams can be withheld. Dr. Theo Harden, Erasmus co-ordinator with the German Department, has also had a number of complaints from foreign students concerning the residences. He told the University Observer that “as far as I can see deductions are made arbitrarily” and agreed that such complaints left a bitter taste in the mouths of some Erasmus students. The feeling of many of those we spoke to was that the residence authorities took advantage of the fact that Erasmus students are usually too far away to query such deductions by the time the refund cheques arrive.