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Student Housing Laws College Students Should Know

One key component of college is campus housing. The transition from high school to college often means moving into a residence hall. Some students move to an off-campus housing option, living with roommates and engaging in the campus community. This change is particularly big for first-year students or college freshmen.

This transition underscores challenges faced by many students, particularly low-income and insecure students. These might include housing insecurity, food insecurity, and access to healthcare.

In recent years, people are noticing that students at community colleges and four-year universities often struggle to meet their basic needs. This makes it even harder to achieve academic success. So, the U.S. Department of Education, the laws in different states, and many groups that stand up for students' rights are starting to do something about it. They want to make sure that all students can go to school without having to worry about things like food, housing, and healthcare. This includes homeless students and foster youth.

Read on for information on student housing laws and the rights students have with regard to housing.

Implied Warranty of Habitability

Every student has a right to decent, safe, and sanitary housing, whether they choose to live on campus or off campus. Living in a dorm room is different from a normal landlord-tenant arrangement. Students living in dorm rooms still have certain rights. One right is an implied warranty of habitability. It applies to all forms of student housing, including on-campus housing options such as dorms and residence halls.

A warranty of habitability is implied in all rental housing, whether it's a regular apartment or a dorm room. This warranty generally guarantees that the tenant's housing unit is safe, sanitary, and complies with local building codes. For example, a college dorm should provide rooms that:

  • Are not infested with bugs or rodents
  • Have hot and cold running water and heating, if necessary
  • Have a proper lock on all doors and windows
  • Are sealed off from the elements

Following the pandemic, occupancy rules may have changed. But these adjustments still must meet the basic needs of students.

Most university housing departments have a system in place for reporting problems with your dorm room. You can refer to your university's website to find more information about how to report a problem with your housing.

Student Privacy Rights

Students' privacy rights are another critical legal issue in postsecondary education. When students live in dorms or other housing on campus, they still have protection from laws in their state and federally. These laws make sure that there are no unlawful intrusions into their private life. For example, the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA) prohibits schools from sharing a student's records without permission.

Universities and colleges must also uphold students' privacy rights in the digital realm. Nowadays, students use computers and the internet for enrollment. They complete financial aid applications for financial assistance like FAFSA online. They take part in other student affairs digitally. For this reason, it's important that schools protect students' personal information.

But, college students living in university housing have less robust privacy rights than other tenants. For example, in an apartment, a landlord must give notice before entering a tenant's apartment. Also, the landlord would have to have a valid reason for entering the tenant's apartment.

In student housing, the amount of privacy a student has depends on the specific college's housing policy. As a result, it's very important for a student to be familiar with the housing policy of their school. Whether you are a community college student or attend a four-year university, you should know your school's housing policy.

Right to Fair Housing

Every student has the right to fair housing. This important rule means that no one can treat you unfairly because of your race, gender, religion, disability, or anything else protected by the law when trying to get housing. The federal Fair Housing Act guards this right. The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) enforces it.

Higher education institutions can develop partnerships with local housing authorities. They can work with landlords and community organizations. They work with these parties to ensure that all students have equal access to safe, affordable, and fair housing options.

Fair housing basically means that each individual in the U.S. has the right to choose housing that is free from unlawful discrimination.

State and local fair housing laws can also offer more coverage. They can include age, marital status, and sexual orientation as protected classes. California, for example, includes gender identity and gender expression in addition to federally protected classes. They also include marital status, ancestry, source of income, and genetic information of a person.

While students are not a protected class in and of themselves, each student is still protected under fair housing laws. This means that students have the right to ask about, apply for, and get housing without anyone treating them unfairly. The reason for the unfair treatment must be for a protected reason.

Suppose you're a student who feels you may have been discriminated against while looking or applying for student housing. In that case, you can file a complaint online with the HUD. If you have questions or concerns, you can also contact your local HUD office.

Addressing Food Insecurity

Even with help from financial aid or the federal government, many college students still struggle to have enough food. This is another basic needs insecurity. That's why more campuses are starting food pantries to help students who may not have enough to eat.

Advocacy groups that speak up for students and the federal government are trying to make bigger changes. They suggest changing the SNAP program to help students and are even looking at programs where students can share meal swipes.

Getting Legal Help

Higher education institutions are invested in student life and student success. By ensuring that basic needs are met, and rights are upheld, we can support student success and help create a more equitable education system.

Many colleges and universities have ways to help students who are having trouble with housing or not having enough food. But it's important to know when to get legal help. If you think your student rights have been violated, it's important to speak to an education attorney or landlord-tenant attorney in your area. A lawyer can help you understand your state laws and your rights on campus.

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