Tufts students evicted from ZBT house after Walnut Hill repeatedly failed to make repairs
In April, the three residents of the Zeta Beta Tau fraternity house were asked to relocate due to maintenance issues that began in September 2020 and which Walnut Hill, a real estate affiliate of Tufts, failed to address. repeatedly resolve.
Omar Badr, RA for ZBT House, explained that the maintenance issues started at the start of the fall semester. Every time a resident took a shower, water droplets dripped from the ceiling of the common area of the house. After the leak started, residents noticed that the ceiling area was turning yellow and developing cracks in the plasterboard.
Badr contacted Walnut Hill, the Tufts affiliate responsible for maintaining the ZBT house, shortly after noticing the leaks and discoloration in the ceiling. According to Badr, they said they would send someone to examine the ceiling that week, but no one came.
Weeks later, the leak had not gone away and the ceiling had started to swell. Badr explained that he was first able to make contact with Walnut Hill in early November, when he contacted them through the Tufts University Police Department.
“Sunday, the bulge [was] just hanging from the ceiling, and he [was] about to fall probably within an hour, ” Badr, an elder, said. “And I … tried to call [Walnut Hill], it did not work. I called TUPD and they managed to put me on the phone with someone. And when I finally got the phone, they said, ‘Yes, we are aware. It should hold, it will be fine. We will get it early Monday morning. And then as soon as I hung up that call, maybe 10 minutes later, the ceiling crashed.
Residents of the ZBT house have temporarily moved to Lewis Hall so that Walnut Hill can assess and repair the damage.
Robert Chihade, director of real estate for Tufts, said that during this time a contractor identified the shower as the source of the leak and restored the plasterboard and paint on the ceiling.
“The plumber found no damage or leaks in the above pipes, and the contractor did not identify any structural damage,” Chihade wrote in an email to The Daily.
The leaks resumed just days after Badr and the other residents returned to the ZBT house. According to Badr, the deterioration in the ceiling progressed faster this time, to the point that he called Walnut Hill and told them he thought he was about to fall again.
“It’s just a cycle where they ignore me and don’t react, and then things get worse, and [then] they watch it, ”Badr said. “The second time he [didn’t] fall but that [was] very close … they [came to] fix it at the very last second. And that [happened] a third time, after repairing it again. So I was told that the plan was that they were going to do some renovations… during the winter break, and that… there should be no more problems.
Chihade said that during the winter break Walnut Hill came to the ZBT house to “caulk, tile and secure the areas around the shower and install a sliding shower door to prevent water from escaping. in the walls or on the bathroom floor. ”
He added that since repairs to the common room ceiling in November, further damage has occurred in the area. However, Walnut Hill did not deliberately fix it.
“Additional water collected in the ceiling causing further damage to the ceiling in the living room – small amounts of water entered along with paint and plasterboard,” Chihade said. “This area was purposely not repaired in January 2021 so the contractor could monitor activity and determine if any additional water was flowing after the bathroom repairs were made.”
At the time, Badr had no idea that Walnut Hill had deliberately not fixed the ceiling in the common room.
In a follow-up email to The Daily, Badr explained his understanding of the situation.
“My boss and the manager at ResLife told me that they would ‘complete the renovations’ during the winter break and that the problem should be fully resolved when we [came] in February, ” Badr said. “I wasn’t aware and I don’t think my boss was that they deliberately didn’t make repairs.”
After the winter break, the ceiling was still leaking when residents took showers. The sheet metal began to crack again and mold began to grow on the exposed wood planks where the sheet metal had come off.
During the fall and spring semesters, Josh Hartman, director of the Office of Residential Living and Learning, said he contacted residents on several occasions, offering to move them out of the house. ZBT.
Despite the lingering problems, Badr did not want to move because the house provided a level of security for him as an immunocompromised student. In the house, he could minimize his close contacts and cook his own food rather than going to the mess halls.
“I chose to live in this house to avoid [many] people as possible, ” Badr said. “It’s very easy to do because I only have two residents, and they both have had COVID before, so they can’t make it up for the rest of the semester.”
Eventually, ORLL contacted the three residents of the ZBT house and gave them two weeks notice to move out by April 25.
Badr stressed that he did not want to leave the ZBT house and was surprised when he received the ORLL notice to move. He understood that the lack of communication from ORLL had marked their desire to stay in the house until the end of the semester.
“They were cool with it until they weren’t,” Badr said.
Dan Gizzo, another resident of the ZBT house, agreed with Badr that he would have preferred to stay in the house for the remaining weeks of the semester.
“I was hoping we could just hold on,” Gizzo, a junior, said. “I mean, it’s literally been going on since the first shower of this semester … so yeah, if it was up to me, [we would have stayed] there for two more weeks.
Badr described the moving process as rushed and stressful.
“I was very focused on getting my residents out… and organizing our household items because I wasn’t sure if we would have access to the house or not again,” Badr said. “And if we don’t pack all the items in the house like the projector, the TV, the game console, the composites, the kitchen appliances, things like that, they can be thrown out by Walnut Hill during the renovation. this summer, then [I was] We’re just trying to make sure our residents are moved, everything is tidy, and we don’t lose anything valuable.
The residents ended up moving to their new accommodation – an off-campus apartment – without the university’s help because ORLL was unable to offer them relocation assistance on days that were convenient for them.
“The students asked for help with moving over the weekend. We were unable to respond to the request for assistance on weekends due to the unavailability of movers during these times. ” Hartman said. “The students were told that they would have access to the house to collect any items that were left behind, and that access could be easily coordinated through the Office of Residence Life and Learning. .
According to Badr, this was not clearly communicated to him at the time.
“When I initially asked if we were going to have access to the house, the head of ResLife told me they didn’t know; it’s up to Walnut Hill whether they changed the locks or not, ” Badr said.
Badr says Walnut Hill has failed to contact him on several occasions over the past two semesters. They did not respond when Badr first contacted the leak. Chihade told The Daily that a contractor from Walnut Hill has shown up every week this semester to monitor the leak, but Badr disputes this.
“The contractor has investigated every week since January, and no additional water has accumulated in the ceiling assembly, indicating that the bathroom repairs were successful,” Chihade said.
Badr said it was wrong.
“A guy has come over every now and then … I study in our common area where the leak is occurring, and I barely leave the house as is.” I can tell you that I have seen this man about three times this semester. ” Badr said. “If he came every week… I would know.”
Badr reflected on the stress and responsibility that came upon him as the RA during this process.
“Some of the issues that we have encountered in this house this year, I think, are… beyond my jurisdiction and [outside] the qualifications for this position, ” he said. “I’m just a student… I don’t know how to deal with the ongoing housing issues and the callous landlords.”
He also commented on how it affected him in a broader sense.
“It also affected me a lot academically,” Badr said. “I had to withdraw from a class because I just couldn’t figure out all these housing issues and focus on my classes at the same time – it got way too difficult.