West Virginia University Student Government Association students who are involved with the Student Advocates for Legislative Advancement have joined together to stand up for the rights of tenants in West Virginia.

The SALA group is a branch of SGA that is in the process of writing a bill to be sponsored by members of the state Legislature in the coming months. The bill will define requirements for landlords, such as itemizing deductions on security deposits, giving 24-hour notice before entering a rented property and setting a 30-day deadline for the return of security deposits.

The group launched a website titled “Better Landlord-Tenant Laws in West Virginia,” where they have asked for renters in the state to share their experiences with unfair practices of landlords and the need for such a law.

SGA Governor Ryan Campione said that it is important for renters to post their stories on the website, since it will be a great help in the process.

“Since we can’t take everybody down to Charleston with us, the website is a way to collectively share ‘horror’ stories about unfair landlord situations,” Campione said. “We can share this website-collected information to the Legislature to help argue our case.”

SALA is attempting to pass this bill during the 2011 state legislative session, which ends on March 12. The students will be traveling to the Legislature later this month to advocate for the bill.

Chris Lewallen, president of the SGA, said that the response from students and residents of Morgantown has been positive.

“There are many students treated unfairly with security deposits, and I think the response is good because we are simply asking to be treated fairly,” Lewallen said. “Forty-seven other states have this law, and we are one of only three that does not.”

Lewallen said that the bill was once proposed in 2007, but did not have enough support. He says the difference this year is that they have many sponsors, and it has a better chance since the bill outlines specific requirements for landlords.

Benjamin Seebaugh, SGA’s executive director of legislative affairs and co-chairman of SALA, said this bill will be important for college students who will be getting security deposits back and signing or renewing leases.

“For college students living on a college student budget, an entire month’s rent is a big deal, since we don’t have a reliable source of income for the most part,” Seebaugh said. “When landlords are taking advantage of students, we are a captive audience, and we need to prevent this. This is something that is recurring and will be occurring in May, so we want to get this bill passed during this session. That way, if we succeed, it will go into law as soon as it is passed, therefore already helping students in just a few months.”

However, the bill, Seebaugh said, will affect more than just WVU students.

“It’s important to emphasize that this doesn’t only affect our students, but it affects the students from Marshall University, West Virginia Wesleyan, West Liberty, Fairmont State and more,” Seebaugh said. “It affects students and residents all over the state.”

Eventually, Seebaugh would like to grow SALA statewide and nationally.

To learn more, visit http://tenantrightsWV.org.



CONTACT: Benjamin Seebaugh, Student Government Association
304-488-8988, bseebaug@mix.wvu.edu