Editorial: Discrimination at Columbia Plaza

Columbia Plaza apartments are consistently in high demand by students. Enticed by low rent for relatively luxurious units, students queue several months in advance to grab a coveted GW-guaranteed spot in the building – of which the University controls 28 percent. Many more attempt to sign leases on vacant apartments. These facts juxtapose Columbia Plaza’s well-documented record of marginalizing student-tenant rights both during the lease signing process and while they live in the building. Given its 28 percent share in the complex, the University must take effective action to protect student rights.

As reported in The Hatchet (“Cold Shoulder,” March 7, p. 1), student-residents have complained of unfair treatment by off-duty police officers and unequal treatment by the building’s administration. Students are essentially forbidden from hosting friends in their rooms; some complain that they have been forcibly ejected from their own rooms for low levels of noise. When students call the building administration to complain about abrasive police treatment, their concerns are ignored.

The University should use the influence derived from controlling 28 percent of the building to advocate on behalf of students. It is unconscionable that the University administration continues to provide Columbia Plaza with revenue stability as it infringes upon the rights of its students. With so many other quality apartment buildings around, the University should take its business elsewhere if Columbia Plaza refuses to change its practices.

While some students obtain Columbia Plaza housing through Community Living and Learning Center, many attempt to live in the building on their own. During the lease negotiation process, the building requires all prospective tenants to prove income of over $80,000. While common practice in most apartment buildings, Columbia Plaza does not allow guarantors to underwrite the lease like other buildings do. While no litigation has been brought, such a practice certainly appears to be the type of de facto discrimination the D.C. Human Rights Act aims to prevent. While we do not challenge the right of a private business to conduct operations as they see fit, having such a policy seems deliberately aimed at preventing students from living in the building, especially considering the long-term complaints form the complex’s residents and administration about student conduct in the buildings.

While the building’s policies are discriminatory, students should not be absolved for their conduct late at night that angers non-student building residents. This page has long contended that students should take responsibility not to act in a lewd manner in places that could upset area residents. Acting in such a manner only provides are residents the ability to pounce on a small minority of students in their crusade against the University.

The University must take an active role in protecting the rights of students living in Columbia Plaza. Controlling 28 percent of the building gives GW enormous leverage in affecting the way Columbia Plaza treats its students. Permitting the building to continue infringing upon student rights should not be tolerated.

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