UMKC residents form tenant union, demand better conditions and transparency from university

Claire Powell

Following a meeting with UMKC officials Thursday night, the newly-formed UMKC Tenant Union publicly released their demands regarding university housing.

Signed by over 100 students living on-campus, the statement outlined demands that included revising the terms of UMKC’s housing contracts, maintenance updates and accessibility options. 

The union’s foremost demand calls for the university to implement formal lease agreements with students. Currently, the UMKC housing contract states that “UMKC is not a landlord” and cannot be “subject to any landlord-tenant laws or requirements.” If lease agreements were implemented, students living at UMKC would also be classified as Kansas City tenants, granting them certain protections under the city’s Tenants Bill of Rights

“We are not a ragtag group of kids who are trying to get attention for ourselves or serve our personal ambitions,” freshman and UMKC Tenant Union leader Lucas Rodriguez said. “We are organizing as a collective to win the things we can’t obtain when we perform as individuals. We are organizing to win what we are owed — the same things that student tenants everywhere else deserve: safe, accessible and affordable student housing.”

The unionization effort was sparked following student unrest after almost 150 students were forced to relocate following a pipe burst in the Oak Street Hall dormitory over winter break. The incident was just one of many recent flooding issues in student housing, including massive flooding in Jan. of 2021 that displaced another 80 residents of the Johnson Hall dormitory. As per the residential life housing contract, UMKC held no liability regarding any damage to residents’ personal property.

“I was impacted by the Johnson Hall flood in 2021,” Maddy Bremer, a sophomore and union member, said. “My ceiling caved in, I lost irreplaceable personal items and I paid out of pocket to get back on my feet. The university shields themselves from any accountability from protecting tenant rights.”

Now, the union is demanding that the university provide a compensation arrangement for all future students forced to relocate within UMKC student housing buildings due to flooding. This includes an assurance that affected students will receive an unrestricted reimbursement of up to $10,000 for flood-related expenses. 

Tenants also called for UMKC to be more transparent with the costs and fees associated with housing. According to the list of demands, the university is being asked to provide an explanation behind each housing fee and details of where the fee will be allocated within the university’s housing budget. 

If agreed upon, the university would also be required to implement a four-week deadline per fee and provide one week’s notice prior to the charging date for each fee. Both of these measures are intended to allow students time to accumulate the necessary funds.

“When random fees pop up related to our housing, it can really hurt us and our families financially,” union member Reese Wood said. “We are disappointed but not surprised that the UMKC administrators seemed very dismissive of our demands and refused to commit to any of them.”

Union members gave the university’s provost and housing directors until May 13 to agree to the demands, with these conditions fully implemented by the start of the 2022-23 school year.

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