ASOSU Student Legal Services aims to support students with housing issues

This illustration represents how renter’s rights are not always clear to student renters. With the help of Associated Students of Oregon State University’s Student Legal Services, they can save money and avoid disputes with their landlord.

Jeremiah Estrada, News Contributor

Clarification: A statement in a previous version of this article about the Office of Advocacy’s commitment has been updated in order to provide further clarification.

The Associated Students of Oregon State University student government offers resources such as the Student Legal Services and Office of Advocacy to support students with various off-campus and on-campus housing situations.

ASOSU Student Legal Services is provided to OSU students through Access the Law. Their office provides legal advice and representation to students when they have a dispute that is unrelated to the university.

ASOSU Access the Law Staff Attorney Noah Chamberlain said students are able to come to them with any housing situation. Those who are tenants and under a rental agreement are able to meet with them if they have any questions about their living situation. 

According to Chamberlain, this applies to students who are subletting with how it falls under the landlord-tenant category. Students who are homeowners are also able to use these services for any issues about their property.

The legal services’ process has been fully remote and students are able to contact their office by phone, email or at their website. Once a student contacts Student Legal Services, their legal assistant will obtain the relevant information from the student and coordinate a meeting time. They will follow up with the student with the intent to get them scheduled within three business days. 

According to Chamberlain, they have been maintaining their normal office hours from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Monday to Friday. On occasion, students are able to meet outside those hours if necessary.

“We start every appointment with an initial consultation, typically a half-hour,” Chamberlain said. “We’ll gather some information beforehand and with regards to landlord-tenant issues or housing issues, we typically will ask students if they have a PDF copy or electronic copy of the lease agreements.”

Chamberlain said it is recommended that students forward their documents to them prior to the meeting, allowing the legal services team to review the documents before discussing it. These appointments can be held over the phone or Zoom call.

The ASOSU Office of Advocacy is able to offer a full range of online services to students. These areas they can assist in include Code of Conduct violations, cheating accusations, grace appeals, graduate student issues, University Housing and Dining Services conduct and contract issues, student accounts and financial aid concerns, international student issues and Equal Opportunity and Access cases.

ASOSU Office of Advocacy Intern Ava Thomas said that they are able to guide students through situations about their UHDS housing contract to find a solution. Students can visit their website to schedule an online appointment. They will then meet with a lead supervisor who will access their case. A Peer Advocate will take the initial details into confidentiality in order to debrief. From there, they will work one on one with the student through Zoom.

“Peer Advocates train diligently to listen empathetically, validate feelings and emotions, and present options to the student,” Thomas said. “This allows for the student to feel that they are not alone, nor have to solve the issue they may be facing, individually.”

Thomas said they address the basic needs of the student to see if they are being met. If this does not happen, the office helps students access free services or get them connected to people across campus that will help further. She said she sees it as having someone support you from the sidelines, cheering them on during a game.

International students have faced issues with their housing concerning leaving or staying in the United States, according to Chamberlain. He said many people had signed up for lease agreements and are still in situations where they have ongoing contracts. The situations with those students can range from  early termination or what their rights are if they are not occupying their unit, but they wish to maintain possession of it.

“There quite often have been decisions international students have made driven by what their country of origin was doing with regards to COVID-19 response,” Chamberlain said. “As to whether they stayed here in the U.S. or went home and now that things have progressed further while we were initially dealing with lease termination issues, now we’re dealing with students that are potentially returning to the U.S.”

Students have approached Access the Law with situations such as being under a sublease agreement, legal issues with returning to the U.S., if repairs are needed by a landlord or a roommate dispute. A majority of the issues pertained to students who were forced to return home and had to terminate their lease.

Chamberlain said part of their job is to educate students about what their legal rights are and what the law says about their issue. They can also give them guidance if there is a direct legal action that needs to be taken. Their office is able to support students in making legal decisions.

“Sometimes we identify problems where there is a legal matrix to it, there isn’t necessarily a legal remedy that’s automatically available or it’s not practical to pursue,” Chamberlain said. “Then we look at strategies and solutions that don’t necessarily come from a rights-based legal perspective. So negotiations, coaching on how to resolve conflict, giving methods and solutions for dispute resolutions.”

The Office of Advocacy’s goal is to provide students with options, according to Thomas. She said most students that meet with them for any issue are first-timers and unsure of subsequent steps. They are notably aware that every dispute is different, even if it falls under the same housing category which fuels them to tailor their services to the student. She said  there is no one specific pathway every student follows to resolve housing disputes. The Office of Advocacy is committed to providing student-centered advocacy to anyone who experiences conflict or challenges on campus.

“I wouldn’t say there’s one overall goal that we’re trying to help with, but making sure that each student and their individual needs and legal problems are being serviced appropriately,” Chamberlain said.

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