Many residents of U Club Binghamton were surprised to find a new charge added to their rent payments months into their lease.

U Club Binghamton, a student housing complex in Vestal, New York, recently started charging residents an additional cost to their monthly rent as part of a new utility addendum, which was present in all current leases since the beginning of the year. As per the addendum, residents can be billed for water and sewage services.

While the addendum was present in all leases since the time of signing, utility charges were only added to all residents’ bills for the first time in December 2021. According to the utility addendum, water and sewage services would be billed to the landlord and allocated to residents. The amount is distributed among residents who have signed lease agreements in the building, with the deduction of a 5 percent common area use of both water and sewage utilities. The bill is then issued to residents, who have to pay within 19 days of the issuance.

For the month of November, for which utilities first began being charged, multiple residents interviewed from separate buildings received the same exact utility charge of $19.28. This included a $3.12 charge for water, a $7.66 charge for sewage, a $3.50 processing fee and a one-time $5 charge to create an online account to pay the fees.

Dylan Fay, a current U Club Binghamton resident and a junior majoring in history, wrote in an email that the additional fees to pay for utilities, along with how the utilities were allocated among all residents, was not sensible. Fay and other residents said they were initially told by U Club Binghamton employees earlier in the year that utility charges would only appear if a unit passed a certain water usage limit.

“I understand why we paid it, but when almost half of the bill is simply for fees it doesn’t sit well, especially when we were not charged based on our specific unit’s usage,” Fay wrote. “U Club [Binghamton] is also well known for overcharging; both I and others have heard stories of them charging people for not cleaning the dust out of the corners of the wall when they move out and small issues like that.”

Klaire Martinez, a senior double-majoring in English and theatre, wrote in an email that the distribution of utility fees was confusing, as each household in the complex has different water usage habits.

“To my knowledge, there are residents in the complex potentially using more water and sewer services, but I didn’t understand why all residents must share that burden,” Martinez wrote.

For the month of December, the same residents that were interviewed reported being charged different amounts than each other, a change from the equivalent costs of November. U Club Binghamton did not announce a change in their utility fee allocation processes.

Residents have also reported trouble in contacting U Club Binghamton management with questions on the addendum. Martinez wrote that student employees were not well-informed on the subject and higher management was unavailable.

“A majority of the front desk workers are [Binghamton University] students and I can imagine they don’t know much more since most … are residents too,” Martinez wrote. “As for the upper management staff, they have been coincidentally unavailable in meetings no matter what time I go and I’m apparently not allowed to book an appointment either.”

U Club Binghamton is already one of the more expensive student housing options in the area, with yearly leases ranging from around $800 to $1100 per month depending on the floor plan. Currently, the cheapest floor plan offered by U Club Binghamton is $869 per month. The addition of a service fee to this bill adds to the monthly costs of all residents.

Kassandra Roberts, general manager of U Club Binghamton, wrote in an email that the addendum was added for sustainability purposes.

“Our residents are aware of the utility addendum in the lease, which is common in student housing and overall residents have been accepting of covering the water charge, which is generally around $15 per month,” Roberts wrote. “Sustainability is important to us at U Club Binghamton and we want to engage our residents in the conservation of natural resources. We will be implementing a conservation program for residents with information and tips on how to reduce energy and water usage, which not only helps save costs, but is also good for the planet.”

KT Fitzgerald, a junior double-majoring in psychology and women, gender and sexuality studies, has advocated for housing rights and was part of a recent Student Association (SA) initiative to survey students and expose untrustworthy landlords. Fitzgerald first heard about the addendum in a GroupMe for BU tenants, and has tried to give students options on how to go about the new fees.

“Unfortunately, some U Club [Binghamton] residents cannot afford the unexpected costs and were left scrambling for solutions, whether that be challenging the addendum via organizing or legal means, or needing to break the lease and find a new place to live,” Fitzgerald wrote. “To me, this addendum is deceptive, it is predatory, it is greedy and it is unfair not only to U Club Binghamton residents, but to our wider community that is negatively impacted by price hikes in housing fees and gentrified housing developments.”

An option for off-campus students seeking legal advice on their leases is to reach out to the Off Campus College (OCC) Legal Clinic, which offers free legal advice to all BU students. However, Nicholas Scarantino, who is currently the only attorney listed online as available in the Clinic, is an attorney at Levene Gouldin & Thompson, LLP, which represents U Club Binghamton and cannot aid students with legal issues regarding U Club Binghamton.

Fitzgerald wrote that BU needs to do more for students facing concerns with housing off campus.

“Frankly, the University needs to step in and make students aware of the community’s housing crisis and what that involves,” Fitzgerald wrote. “The SA, [New York Public Interest Research Group (NYPIRG)] and Stakeholders [of Broome County] recently did a great job hosting an event dedicated to providing students with this information, but more should be done by the University itself to combat these issues. Additionally, the University’s free OCC Legal Clinic for students should offer representation that does not present such a major conflict of interest.”