University not responsible for damaged property

Local fire departments responded to a fire on the fourth floor of Adams Hall in December. The university is not responsible for damage to personal property although this is not always known to students when they sign their housing contracts. Photo by Catherine Twing. 

Black smoke billows into the sky. Flames burst through the windows and lap up the sides of the building. Students huddle together outside as their residence hall and all their possessions are annihilated by the fire.

It’s a worst-case scenario, but it begs the question, “what would happen if…?”

Last semester, in the final week of classes, students Andy Coffin and his roommate, in 401C Adams Hall, learned the answer to that question the hard way. A laptop charger left on a beanbag chair overheated and caused a fire that gutted their room.

“We lost probably 90 percent of our stuff. I got a couple pairs of socks, a shirt that I had in my backpack and the clothes that I was wearing,” Coffin said. “Clothes, both TVs, both Xboxes, all of our textbooks – all gone,”

The fire, which started at about 1 p.m., forced all the students in Adams to vacate the building. Free popcorn was provided for them while they waited in the Campus Center for the building to be cleared, but for the residents of 401 C, the wait was much longer.

“They put us in the hotel for a week and gave us 100 bucks to get clothes for the next day. That was super nice of them. After that week or so, it was basically your room is going to be ready and anything else you need, tough,” said Coffin.

Unknown to some, when all students sign a contract to live on campus they agree to terms that absolve the university of any responsibility to students’ personal property, whether it is damaged “by fire, water, vandalism or other cause” the housing contract says. The document continues on to recommend that all students residing on campus should “procure personal insurance against such eventuality.”

“Basically, your personal property you are responsible for no matter what. Honestly, I tell everyone to read it (the housing contract) but they don’t, but that is a key piece in there. You are responsible for all of your personal property,” said Michael Robilotto, director of Residence Life. “Any student living on campus can get renter’s insurance, and we encourage them to get renter’s insurance.”

 Robilotto said that some students in the past have made claims through their parent’s homeowners insurance, but that renter’s insurance is a far more affordable solution.

Coffin however doesn’t see it that way.

When asked whether he had renter’s insurance he said, “Oh, of course not. No Way. Not a chance, I mean, personally we’re broke as it is, being at this stage in our life. We’re not exactly raking in the dough and thinking about renter’s insurance. Nobody is getting renter’s insurance, someone our age, come on?”

An informal poll of seven Castleton students showed that only two had renter’s insurance. Some students had never even heard of renter’s insurance.

“I don’t even know what it is. I don’t even know what you’re talking about,” said Avery McAllister, a freshman who transferred in this semester.

Despite losing nearly all of his things, Coffin isn’t holding a grudge against Castleton University or the Residence Life Department, but he does wish that the administration had reached out to him, or one of his suitemates affected by the fire.

“I thank Mike for working his ass off to help us out as much as he could. I just feel like it got to the higher-ups and they were just gonna pretend like this didn’t happen. Shoved under the carpet. I didn’t hear anything from anyone in administration and neither did my roommate or anyone in the suite for that matter. It just would have been nice to just hear anything from them,” Coffin said with a look of disappointment on his face. 

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