University housing, whether in a dormitory, residence hall, or other on-campus or near-campus site that the institution operates, can be a great benefit. Yet students who live in university housing need to recognize that the institution's housing rules apply. The college or university may even incorporate its full student-conduct code into their housing rules, including all the academic and other rules on campus. Students who live in university housing must follow university rules.
Students who break those rules, even on off days and in off hours in their dormitory or other campus housing, may face disciplinary proceedings just as serious as proceedings arising out of classroom misconduct. This page describes common rights and responsibilities of, and common restrictions on, students occupying university housing. Students have certain rights and protections but should also act responsibly within university-housing restrictions. Know your rights and responsibilities.
Sources of Restrictions
Colleges and universities publish housing restrictions in several locations. The housing agreement itself, whether a separate lease or an addendum to other registration materials, may include key restrictions. Read your lease or other housing agreement carefully for those restrictions. Colleges and universities also publish housing restrictions in the form of institutional policies. Housing authorities may distribute these policy restrictions as a pamphlet, or the lease or other housing agreement may direct the student to these policies online. Again, be sure to read restrictions to which housing authorities refer you.
General college and university student-conduct codes applicable to the classroom and other academic locations may contain clauses extending their restrictions to student housing, even though those restrictions do not appear in the lease or other housing agreement. Do not assume that because your conduct occurs in university housing, even off-campus housing, and after school hours, even during school breaks, that you are free of student-code restrictions. Review student-conduct codes to see if their restrictions extend to university housing. The same rules may apply to the dormitory as in the classroom.
Types of Violations
Colleges and universities restrict a range of student conduct in campus housing. Restrictions can depend on the institution's culture and values or on the norms and mores of the community in which the institution operates. Common restrictions address such thing as:
- sexual assault or sexual harassment under Title IX or a school's Code of Conduct;
- other offensive or unwelcome conduct of a sexual nature;
- prostitution, soliciting prostitution, or sex with an underage minor;
- possession or display of pornographic materials;
- underage drinking or alcohol sales, furnishing, or possession;
- smoking or other tobacco use, and furnishing tobacco to a minor;
- marijuana use, possession, or sales, including medical marijuana;
- theft, vandalism, or other forms of property loss or damage;
- unregistered or unauthorized overnight guests and other visitors;
- lewdness, disturbing the peace, and other forms of disorderly conduct; and
- facilitating, ratifying, or permitting such conduct in your university housing.
University officials enforce housing restrictions not merely by eviction, as a private landlord would, but also through student disciplinary proceedings. Depending on state and local procedures, university policy and practice, and the terms of the lease, eviction may occur by notice to quit, administrative proceeding, summary court proceedings, or some combination. Eviction results in termination of the lease and removal of the student and personal effects, and may result in a civil liability to pay all or part of the remaining rent and other charges.
Student disciplinary proceedings, though, have a different object and outcome. In disciplinary proceedings arising out of housing violations, the main question is not whether the student must abandon the housing. The issue is instead the student's good standing within the university's academic program. Discipline for a serious housing violation may result in the student's suspension from classes or, in the worst case, academic dismissal. Dismissal can have far-reaching effects. Other schools may refuse transfer or admission, depending on the finding that leads to academic dismissal. In short, a serious housing violation may lead not only to loss of housing but to loss of a degree opportunity and a career. Take housing violations seriously.
Fortunately, students have some protections against unfair or unjust actions by university housing officials. Access to housing, including university housing, is a significant property and liberty interest, meaning that universities must generally provide due process before evicting. Due process typically includes reasonable notice and some form of hearing before an impartial decision-maker before eviction may occur. A student who gets a university notice unfairly threatening the student's housing should follow those procedures to challenge eviction, seeking legal counsel in the more-serious cases.
Other Legal Protections
Federal and state civil-rights laws also prohibit certain forms of discrimination in housing. For instance, university officials must not use a student's race, sex, religion, or disability against the student in making housing determinations. State law or local ordinance may further protect a student against discrimination based on marital status, family status (children), sexual orientation, and other protected characteristics. If an eviction proceeding appears discriminatory, the student should promptly seek expert counsel experienced in student-housing and student-discipline rights.
States further enact landlord-tenant laws that may offer significant protections against unfair, hasty, or groundless evictions. Those laws may establish special landlord-tenant courts and procedures, require special forms of notice to the tenant, and prohibit landlords from changing the locks, removing personal property, or taking other action interfering with occupancy until the court issues an appropriate order after hearing. Landlord-tenant laws may also protect security deposits and prohibit landlords from imposing special charges. Again, seek expert legal counsel familiar with those laws when a university threatens your substantial rights to housing.
Finally, the lease or housing agreement itself, or university policy, procedures, and practices, may provide the student with special protections. The university housing office may offer a dispute-resolution procedure or resources to address other issues that gave rise to the housing dispute. Read the lease or agreement carefully, consulting with knowledgeable legal counsel on issues that you do not understand and rights you need to enforce.
National Student Rights Attorneys
The Lento Law Firm can help you with a university-housing dispute including one that involves the potential for student discipline. Hundreds of students nationwide have retained Joseph Lento at the Lento Law Firm to represent them in student-housing and student-disciplinary matters. Joseph D. Lento and the Lento Law Firm have the knowledge and expertise to help you through a student-housing dispute, for your best outcome. Call 888-535-3686 to schedule a consultation, or use the Lento Law Firm's online service to contact the Lento Law Firm.