UPDATE: UK spokesperson Jay Blanton told the Kernel that UK has waived fees for those looking to cancel their two-year contract amendments. It's unclear if there is a deadline to cancel for free. April 19, 2019, at 2:57 p.m.
As a senior in high school, Sunshyne Thomas excitedly went through her UK housing application, signing all the contracts she thought she needed to finalize her move to UK. But at the time, she was unaware she had just signed a contract amendment that could potentially cost her thousands of dollars down the road.
This academic year, UK Housing implemented a new “2-Year Advantage Contract Amendment” into its housing contract.
The amendment allowed incoming UK freshmen to sign a document stating they would live in the dorms for two consecutive years. In exchange for committing to live in the dorms for two years, UK would allow them to continue to pay, “the same room type rates as approved by the Board of Trustees for the current 2018-2019 academic year,” opposed to the three percent increase in housing prices recently approved by the Board of Trustees for the 2019-2020 academic year.
“The purpose was to provide an opportunity that focused on access and affordability,” Associate Vice President for Administration Penny Cox said. “If you decide you want to live on campus a second year and sign the amendment, we will lock your rate in for two years. This way you are doing a price protection so you won’t have to pay additional if the rates go up.”
But for the many UK students like Thomas who were unaware they even signed the amendment while filling out their housing applications, trying to free themselves from the costly agreement has been an uphill battle.
“I didn’t even find out about this until the end of fall semester,” Thomas said.
Thomas, a soon-to-be sophomore, had made plans to live in an off-campus apartment during her second year at UK come fall 2019, but when she heard some peers had accidentally signed a contract locking them into another year in the dorms she called the UK Housing Office to see if she too had signed. They informed her that she had.
“I started hearing people talking about it, and I was like ‘What is a two-year contract?’” Thomas said. “So, I called housing and asked about it, and they told me I signed it.”
When Thomas asked if she could cancel the agreement, she says she was told she could, but she would be required to pay the full housing rate for the fall 2019 semester, because she had missed the Dec. 15, 2018 deadline.
According to the 2-Year Advantage Contract Amendment, students who wanted to cancel their agreements before July 15, 2018 could be relieved of the contract without being required to pay a fee.
If they canceled between July 15, 2018 and Dec. 15, 2018, the cancellation fee was $250. If canceling after Dec. 15, 2018, they were required to pay 100 percent of their selected housing rate, and if notice of a cancellation is not received before Sept. 1, 2019, students are required to pay the full housing rate for the Fall 2019 semester and the cost of their meal plan.
For some, this means a fee of up to $4,900, depending on their housing situation.
Though the contract outlined dates, cancellations and their fees, many students like Thomas were unaware they were even in the contract until after the Dec. 15 date.
Thomas was later told that she could fill out an appeal, which, if granted, would free her from the financial obligations she was currently required to pay.
According to UK Housing, some valid reasons for breaking a housing contract include withdrawal from the university, medical purposes, marriage, cases of necessity, financial hardship and study abroad.
When Thomas filed her appeal, her mother, who she relies on for finances when it comes to college, was to be undergoing her second back surgery, which would put her out of work for some time. Thomas was confident she fit the bill for an appeal, as her mother’s surgery and time from work would be putting financial strain on the family.
After sending UK the doctor’s note that validated her mother’s medical leave from work, Thomas received an email back from UK Housing representatives that said this was not a valid note.
They had mistaken it for an insurance note rather than an actual doctor’s note, according to Thomas. She replied and told them it was indeed a doctor’s note validating her mother’s work leave and surgery, but they still did not accept the excuse.
Thomas’ mother was later fired from her job and is now seeking to hire an attorney to fight the termination. When she was fired, Thomas’ mother was provided documentation that proved she had been terminated from her job. Thomas sent that documentation to the UK Housing administration, and they then relieved her from her contract.
She is no longer responsible for paying the full fall 2019 housing rate she had unknowingly signed into. She says other students she knows are still on the hook.
“A lot of girls in my sorority have talked about how they signed the contract and can’t get out of it because they don’t have a reason to appeal it,” Thomas said.
Freshman Caitlin Reinhart is another student stuck in the contract, though she too has no recollection of signing the contract amendment. Reinhart has not yet been freed from the financial obligations of cancelation.
Reinhart is from Taylor Mill, Kentucky, which is a two-hour drive from Lexington. She decided, instead of making the two-hour drive to and from campus every day, she would live in the dorms. She currently lives in Holmes Hall.
While Reinhart was filling out her housing application in the spring 2018, she recalled seeing the two-year contract and discussing the contents of it with her father. They decided that since the dorms were extremely expensive, she would pass on the opportunity, and decided then not to sign the agreement.
“Living here, the dorm alone is over $1,000 a month,” Reinhart said. “So that’s like $4,000 a semester, plus they require you to have a meal plan. The cheapest one is a little over $1,000 a semester. Comparing that to the apartment I signed (a lease with), that’s about $5,000 for 12 months.”
This semester, Reinhart informed UK Housing she would not be returning to the dorms for the 2019-2020 academic year. A friend had told her she needed to inform the office of this, and she wanted to be safe and make sure they knew she would not be returning. Only then did she find out she had reportedly signed the document, though she had no proof that she did.
According to Reinhart, UK Housing informed her that she had signed the contract in May of 2018. Upon going through all of her notifications, Reinhart says she never received a notification in May confirming that she had signed a document, though received confirmation of signing other contracts. She says she never received a single notification from UK Housing in the month of May.
“I was never informed I signed a two-year contract,” she said.
Reinhart also said that she did not recall logging into the housing portal at any point during May. She signed her housing contract in March of 2018. After that, she logged in to accept a roommate in April, then in June to confirm her move-in date. After June 18, 2018, she has no other notifications.
“I have no notifications from them in the month of May,” Reinhart said.
She currently has no access to the documents she signed on the portal.
She has submitted an appeal for her release from the contract but has not heard back from UK Housing. She submitted her appeal on March 26, 2019. Last week, she received an email that there was a staffing change in the housing office, and they would be reviewing her appeal soon.
Before going to college, Reinhart’s family’s furnace broke. When this happened, they had to decide between paying for the furnace or helping Reinhart with college fees. They decided that instead of paying close to $9,000 for the furnace, they would help pay for college.
Reinhart says she submitted proof of this dilemma in her appeal to UK Housing.
If Reinhart does not get out of the contract, she still plans to move out of the dorms. She has signed a lease with an off-campus apartment complex for the coming year. She said that even if she has to pay the $4,416 fee (the 2018-2019 rate of a semester in Holmes Hall) it is still cheaper to pay a year’s rent at her new apartment and the fee than to pay to live in Holmes Hall for the entire second year.
Many more freshmen are currently in a panic to get out of the contract, stating they were unaware of it. Group messages have been filled with questions about the contract and asking other students for advice on how to get out of it.
Due to the influx of calls about the contract with students wanting to be relieved of it, UK Housing has changed the cancellation date. Instead of paying for the full fall semester, if students want to cancel, the cancellation fee is now $750.
“I think we were trying to look at the inquiries we received and improve communication,” Cox said.
However, some students are still unaware of this change. One of these students is freshman Jack Putnick.
Putnick is living in Jewell Hall and, too, got stuck in the contract. However, by the time he addressed the issue to UK Housing, it was too late for him to cancel with just a $250 fee and was going to need to pay the entire semester.
With this, Putnick decided he was going to stay in the dorms another year and not attempt to fight the contract. However, Putnick made this decision under the impression that he was going to be paying for a fall semester in Jewell Hall no matter what. Putnick was unaware of the date change and said he is going to now be “looking into canceling,” upon being made aware of the change.
Freshman Seph Lasley, currently residing in Haggin Hall, is another student that got stuck in the contract, but was made aware about the date changes. Lasley has stated that he intends to pay the $750 to get out of the contract.
“I will probably end up just paying the fee,” Lasley said. “It’s still kind of crazy compared to the deadlines and fees of other universities, but it’s better than paying over $4,000.”
Lasley was not going to be able to live in the dorms a second year due to medical purposes. He has asthma, and the dorms do not allow things such as air purifiers in the dorms.
For students who are stuck in the contract and would like to get out of it, there is still time. The deadline to get out of the 2-Year Advantage Contract is now April 30, 2019, given the $750 cancellation fee is paid.
“I think the intent here was to give students an option that would also keep in mind affordability,” UK spokesman Jay Blanton said. “We’re just trying to provide a number of options for students to consider housing because we know the longer they live on campus, the better they do academically, socially and otherwise.”