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Fairlawn residents appeal exorbitant electric bills

Anya Cohen

Managing Editor

The 12 students currently residing in the Fairlawn Apartments as participants of the Independent Senior Housing Option (ISHO) are petitioning the College after receiving electric bills in February and March that were more than double the cost of their electric bills from previous months.

ISHO is a housing program that more closely resembles “real world” living than a standard college dorm. According to the 2014-15 Room Selection Information, “ISHOs were designed to help students prepare for the transition to off-campus life. Students who live in an ISHO are responsible for paying their own electric, cable and Internet bills. They are also responsible for cleaning the apartment/house.” In the Fairlawn apartments, one of three spaces on campus allocated for ISHO, three students live in each of the four apartment units and each student pays a reduced room and board fee to make up for what they pay in bills.

Last year, before committing to ISHO, several of the current Fairlawn tenants were led to believe by a Residence Life staff member that an ISHO student should expect an electric bill of approximately $100 per month. The staff member said this figure was the average electric cost for a three bedroom home in the Wooster community.

Based on this information, the students in the Fairlawn apartments were displeased when they received electric bills that averaged just shy of $200 per month between September and January. This frustration heightened when, for the month of February, the units received electric bills of $596.04, $602.47, $646.43 and $926.55, respectively. Come March, the electric bills dropped slightly to $556.09, $620.73, $317.88 and $410.46.

In a community appeal that the 12 Fairlawn tenants have distributed to the head of Residence Life, the Dean of Students, the Business Office and the President’s Office, they cite the March electric statements for the students living in East End apartments, another ISHO: “For both gas and electric, [East End residents] only paid $199.60 [for the month of February]: around ¼ of the costs accrued by Fairlawn residents for the same month. ISHO is advertised to students as one homogeneous housing program with the same costs regardless of location; this huge disparity between Fairlawn and East End’s expenses indicates otherwise.”

The Office of Residence Life says that the difference in electric costs is in part a result of different heating sources in the apartments. The Fairlawn apartments use electric heat — a more expensive and inefficient heat source — while the East End apartments run on a cheaper gas heat.

Another contributing factor to the elevated electric bills is that AEP Ohio provided estimates in their February and March bills rather than actual statements because they were unable to come read the electrical meters due to the poor weather conditions. The estimates, which were based on fall rates, did not cover the costs of heating the buildings during the cold winter months. The extra charges seem to have been added to the February and March bills to make up for these underestimates.

Additionally, the Office of Residence Life is currently in the process of investigating a sizeable hole in the attic of one of the apartment units as a possible cause.

The Fairlawn apartment residents believe that the College should take appropriate steps to ensure that high electric bills do not afflict future ISHO students. In their community appeal, the Fairlawn residents state: “It is unethical and irresponsible, particularly when leasing properties to college students, to have such inefficient heating systems and fail to forewarn residents of the costs they will incur.” The students hope to see the units renovated and wish to be reimbursed for the costs amassed beyond the average monthly electric bill for the other ISHO participants.

According to Assistant Director of Campus Life Rachel Messenger, the staff member who oversees ISHO, the College currently has no plan to reimburse the Fairlawn tenants and is investigating whether renovating the apartments is a feasible and cost-efficient undertaking.

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