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UMKC students form tenant union demanding new lease and better maintenance in dorms

Seven young people stand in a line with their fists raised facing the camera. Half wear masks.
Tara Raghuveer
Organizers of the newly-formed UMKC Tenant Union

The new UMKC Tenant Union is calling for a formalized lease agreement between the university and students, so they're protected under Kansas City's Tenant Bill of Rights. Students are also calling for increased transparency better maintenance, and improved accessibility.

A group of more than 100 undergraduate students at the University of Missouri-Kansas City announced Friday they are forming a tenant union, issuing a list of demands for improving on-campus housing.

The students are organizing with support from housing advocacy group KC Tenants, which has organized a number of other renter groups around the metro.

The new UMKC Tenant Union is calling for increased transparency over rent and fees, more frequent and available building maintenance, better accessibility and an end to the requirement that students in university housing purchase a meal plan.

Students also seeks a formal lease agreement between the university and students, so that students in UMKC housing are protected under Kansas City’s Tenant Bill of Rights. That measure, passed by Kansas City Council in 2019, codifies anti-discrimination protections for renters, and allows them to collectively bargain without fear of retaliation or eviction.

The university responded to the effort in a statement: “We are aware of some students who have housing concerns, and we have encouraged them to meet with university leadership so that we can work collaboratively to address them.”

The UMKC Tenant Union met with university officials on Thursday.

“We gave them the opportunity to do the right thing and they didn't take it," said Jetzel Chavira, a sophomore at UMKC. "So we have to keep fighting.”

Chavira said she regularly found broken washing machines in her dorm and was forced to run her clothes through the dryer multiple times. She says she was billed for extra fees with no explanation as to where the money went, and no deadline for when the bill needed to be paid.

Chavira described an overworked maintenance staff without any system to prioritize emergency repairs. “If your toilet explodes, your RA has to deal with it,” Chavira said.

Students say they were pushed to organize after a burst pipe flooded the Oak Street Hall dormitory in December 2021. About 150 students were forced to move, in a process that brought to light many ongoing problems with the school's housing system.

“It just really motivated me and like angered me to want to do something about it," Chavira said.

Freshman Tylan Olamiju lived in one of the rooms damaged by the flooding, which occurred while she was off campus for winter break. His furniture and clothes were moved by the university, and he didn’t know where they were for several days.

"The whole process was very overwhelming and traumatizing," Olamiju said.

Among the union's demands is restitution for students forced to relocate and reimbursement for flood-related expenses.

The UMKC Tenant Union is calling on the university to commit to its demands by May 13, and implement changes by the beginning of the 2022-2023 school year.

KCUR is licensed to the University of Missouri Board of Curators and is an editorially independent community service of the University of Missouri-Kansas City.

Corrected: April 16, 2022 at 4:07 PM CDT
A previous version of this story referred to someone with the incorrect pronouns.
Eleanor Nash is an intern for KCUR's Up To Date. You can reach her at enash@kcur.org
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