A student and her parents are considering suing the University, citing health violations that led to respiratory issues from pigeons that nested in the air vent of her room in Munson Hall last October.
Savannah Dysard and her parents wrote an email to GW Housing officials Feb. 22 threatening to bring legal action against the University after suffering from “severe allergies” and other medical issues because of the pigeons living in the room’s kitchen vents. Her roommates, Marlee Grant, Brigit O’Malley and one other student, as well as all of their parents, cosigned the letter – a copy of which was obtained by The Hatchet.
Dysard said she and her roommates discovered the pigeons in October but decided not to immediately inform the University. The residents thought the noise in the vents were at first rats and didn’t want to complain when they discovered the birds, she said.
“We thought they were rats at first because they made so much noise,” Dysard said. “But we figured that we could live with them. You can hear them moving, but they sound very weird and very loud.”
Over winter break, three of the four roommates saw doctors in their hometowns because they had breathing issues during the fall semester, Dysard said. One was put on antibiotics for a sinus infection, but the symptoms persisted, she said.
“I guessed that my allergies had come back because I have severe dust and mold allergies,” Dysard said. “I talked to him and he said that it was probably something I was living with.”
Dysard said that she went to the Colonial Health Center two times and went to the emergency room once at the start of this semester because her condition worsened. Dysard began losing her voice and thought she had bronchitis.
“Colonial Health said that I sounded great, I didn’t have a fever, but they could hear that there was something there,” she said.
Dysard was eventually prescribed two inhalers, but no specific cause for her breathing problems was ever identified during the visits.
She said officials first learned about pigeons when she and her roommates mentioned them to a student staff member at the off-campus housing fair Feb. 7.
The day after the students reported the issue at the fair, FixIt staffers inspected the room and offered to put a cover over their kitchen air vent, but said that it would be difficult to do because of the room’s location and ceiling height, she said.
“I wish he could have gotten the bird poop cleaned out or boarded it up,” Dysard said. “There’s so many other things I wish he had done, but at that point I didn’t realize that we were getting sick from it so I didn’t know.”
In the GW Resident’s Bill of Rights, students are entitled to certain room conditions and to responses from a FixIt team member as issues arise. For emergencies, the goal is to resolve problems within a timely manner, ideally within four to 24 hours, according to the document.
The bill of rights defines facilities emergencies as “issues that jeopardize a person’s safety, cause damage/loss of property, or involve power loss, a broken door/lock, or an elevator outage.”
After Dysard’s father called University President Steven Knapp Feb. 20, GW Housing reached out to the individuals living in the Munson room to discuss relocating.
On Feb. 21, Assistant Director of Housing Kevin Gates emailed the students with options to switch their housing assignment, which included additional costs and would split up the roommates. Five of the seven options that Housing gave the students increased their living costs, Dysard said.
The students and parents cosigned an email back to Hayes that said they would consider legal action based on the housing offers, according to the email obtained by The Hatchet.
“We are at our final straw and are now ready to take legal action,” the four students and parents wrote in an email to Gates Feb. 22. “If this means suing on the basis of student housing violations, then we are prepared to take action.”
The email included an outline of the Munson residents’ experiences before and during their interactions with GW Housing staff members, including the “significant stress” from their illnesses that kept them from attending classes and other activities.
Dysard said the day after they sent the email, she received a phone call offering her and her three other roommates two rooms in District House at no additional cost, which they accepted.
University spokesman Brett Zongker said that the University considers housing relocation requests on a case-by-case basis.
The Division of Operations first learned about the situation in early February when the issue was shared with student staff at the off-campus housing fair, Zongker said.
“Pest Control responded and repairs were undertaken to remedy the issue, which has been fully resolved,” Zongker said. “Notwithstanding, student residents continued to have concerns about their accommodations, and the university agreed to relocate these residents to another residence hall.”