Penalty-free contract cancellations and “Tougher” COVID-19 measures announced for Res Halls
By Rebecca Zhong
ANU announced last Friday that on-campus residents can cancel their occupancy agreements effective immediately, with any rent paid in advance to be refunded. In its most recent announcement regarding COVID-19, the University urged residents to leave their residences “immediately,” if they are able to do so “safely”.
Stricter hygiene and social distancing measures are being enforced at residential halls and lodges, with failure to comply to result in the removal of the student from their residential halls, as well as University disciplinary proceedings.
An additional one million dollars in emergency grants was also announced, to be accessible through ANUSA and PARSA. These grants cover assistance for travel expenses, as well as costs associated with accommodation, groceries, medical expenses, and textbook or IT equipment. The Semester 1 census date has also been pushed back from 31 March to 8 May.
According to the University’s residential hall information page, students who cancel their contract are required to fill in an early departure request form, and follow departure procedures, which includes removing all their belongings from their room. Students who cancel their contract will be entitled to a refund of any rent paid in advance by emailing accommodation services.
Residents who are already off campus can give permission for their residence to “dispose of, or pack and send” their possessions to them, subject to the availability of “staff time to complete the task”. The ANU has also asked all residents to inform the University of their current situation and plans by filling in this form.
The information page states that once students are able to come back to campus, they will have “first priority for [their] current on campus accommodation.” It further states that ANU is “confident” that accommodation will be available to returning students in the future.
Contract cancellations and refunds are also applicable to Senior Residents (SRs). Under the new arrangements, SRs who leave their residence without ending their occupancy agreements will still receive their scholarship payments whilst they are off campus, but this will be reduced to “a retainer of 20%” of the scholarship.
The Inter-Hall Council (IHC) said in a statement that they were “proud of [their] efforts in advocating for no-financial-penalty contract cancellations.” As recently as last week, residents had been informed that they would still be charged rent if they left their residence, although a letter sent to residents on 22 March reassured them that ANU was “working hard to resolve matters and responsibilities” pertaining to their agreements. The 2020 standard occupancy agreement requires residents to give four weeks written notice if they wish to leave their residence early. Under this agreement, residents who vacate their rooms early would have remained liable to pay rent until the room was filled, or the contract came to an end.
The IHC said that the 20% retainer paid to SRs who leave their halls “is also something we support”, adding that they will “continue to fight” for better remuneration for SRs who have elected to remain on-campus.
Halls will remain open for students who need to stay in their residence. As of 27 March, students staying on campus are required to observe “increased safety protocols” on personal hygiene and social distancing. This includes an “enhanced cleaning regime” at residences, a ban on gatherings and crowds of any size, and a limit of one registered guest per person, although any visitors are “strongly discouraged”.
The residential hall information page states that “officers” will be assigned to enforce these measures in residential halls, and that “any student in breach of these measures will be removed from their residential accommodation.” These officers include SRs, although the has University stated that it may also include “alternative SRs” who may be appointed depending on the “capacity of remaining SRs to fulfil roles and duty rosters.” SRs who are continuing to work may also be paid additional casual hours “to maintain appropriate oversight” of compliance with safety and hygiene measures.
The stricter social distancing measures mean that the majority of common areas at residential halls have been closed. The restriction on access to common areas includes dining areas in catered colleges, where meals are being served in takeaway containers at designated times. Residents are also required to observe a two-person limit in all enclosed spaces, such as receptions and common rooms. According to Bianca Nicotra, an SR at Wright Hall, residents have been asked to “keep a logbook of everything we do during the day, every area we enter, and everyone we see/come into contact with”.
An email sent to Fenner Hall residents last week informed residents that, if they have already left their hall, they will not be able to return and stay at their residence, as neither Fenner nor the ANU are able to provide the appropriate facilities for self-isolation.
Nicotra told Observer that “the University’s decision made a major difference, and many residents quickly left” over the weekend. She added that “many felt they were given no choice, and were not allowed to stay.” She said that a “majority” of the residents at her hall have left, and that “the only individuals who remain are those who are unable to go home, have nowhere to go, or it is unsafe for them to go home”. Nicotra estimated that there is a “maximum [of] 90 to 100 [students] left in the building, including 2 senior residents”. Currently, her responsibilities as an SR include ensuring that residents comply with the COVID-19 safety protocols. She describes the current circumstances at Wright Hall as “quite stressful.”
In their statement, the IHC said that, “whilst it is saddening to see our halls so empty, we understand and stress the importance of complying with social distancing policies being implemented.” The IHC also expressed their support for the ANU’s recommendation for all students to leave if they can.
In a Facebook post on Friday, ANUSA announced that representatives had worked to secure the availability of contract cancellations, additional emergency grants and a later census date. The post stated that an opt-in “course requirement satisfied or not completed/fail” grading system has not yet been implemented, but that ANUSA representatives are still advocating for this measure.
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