Coronavirus: Victoria University of Wellington students furious after 'unethical' decision to charge for unoccupied rooms

Students at Victoria University of Wellington are furious after being told at short-notice they will be charged $150 for rooms they are not able to live in.

Before New Zealand went into level 4 lockdown on March 25, students living in on campus housing were told they would not need to pay for their accommodation if they decided to return home for the lockdown. 

Fees were waived from March 23 to April 28 in the hope it would "relieve pressure during this difficult time" reports student magazine Salient. 

However on Friday evening an email was sent to students saying residents would need to pay a "holding fee" for their unoccupied rooms from April 29. 

In the email, a copy of which has been provided to Newshub, director of Student and Campus Living Rainsforth Dix says the $150 fee will cover "holding the room and taking care of items left there".

"We are gearing up for your return to our halls of residence. We continue to hold your room and take care of the items you left there. After the fee waiver period ends on 28 April, we will be charging you a weekly fee of $150 for those who intend to return to the hall as soon as they are able."

The decision has been blasted by representatives of student accommodation Weir House, who say it is "money-grabbing".

"[The decision] has been met with significant backlash from all Weir House residents," said a spokesperson in a statement.

"We feel this is a money-grabbing activity, and we implore VUW Accommodation to reconsider this position and do the right thing by their students."

One Weir House resident told Salient they felt they were being "strong-armed" into giving up cash.

"I have now been forced to choose between paying hundreds of dollars rent for a room I'm not legally allowed to enter, or drop out of university."

However a spokesperson from the university says while they recognise it is an "unwelcome charge", the $150 rent is a bargain.

"The 100 percent  discount [Victoria University] has applied to the cost of the rooms during the level 4 lockdown will come to an end after 28 April," they told Newshub.

"Instead of paying all the costs of the halls, the university will now move to a policy of passing on 100 percent of the savings from the partially empty halls to the students through the discounts it is offering."

Victoria University says it has incurred costs of more than $2 million since the lockdown began.

Halls of residence costs have been cross-subsidised by tuition fees, but as tuition fees are meant for the education of all students and not the accommodation of some, the cost-cutting is not sustainable.

"It is now time for students who wish to retain their rooms to begin to contribute to the costs of the hall operations. 

"We will charge a weekly fee of $150 to hold rooms for those who intend to return to the hall as soon as they are able. This fee is heavily discounted. We are also discounting a portion of the activity fee students pay," they continued. 

 Any students who are struggling financially are invited to apply for the university's hardship support.