Between 2020 and 2021 in Champaign, more than 40 private certified housing locations for the University of Illinois campus decreased the number of violations found during city inspections by just over one-third.
However, COVID-19 procedures altered the inspection process, allowing some untrained residents to “pre-inspect” their own rooms as opposed to trained facility professionals who flag fire risks and other problems before city inspectors arrive.
A review of data obtained by CU-CitizenAccess found that inspectors found more than 1,500 safety violations conducted between 2018 and 2019.
But by the 2020-2021 school year, inspectors cited only 710 violations.CertifiedHousing_ExampleDeltaChi-rotated-1
Since the outbreak in 2020, the pandemic has put operational pressure on multiple industries, including the city’s local inspection process. Furthermore, in the 2020-2021 academic year, five different locations had to reschedule their inspection date due to COVID. Despite the delays, Phi Sigma Sigma did not have any violations in inspections, while the other four locations required multiple inspections.
Private Certified Housing (PCH), which predominantly houses freshmen, is privately owned and operated, but certified by University of Illinois under “…certain requirements including offering dining plans, as well as residence life staff and community programming,” according to the website.
Although Champaign’s Neighborhood Services Department used to post inspection statistics on its website annually, they have not done so since the 2016-2017 school year.
Most fraternities and sororities are certified, such as Tau Kappa Epsilon located on Fourth Street.
The buildings are inspected annually, and can be cited for safety violations relating to a multitude of issues. Last October, for example, Tau Kappa Epsilon was cited for 16 deficiencies after its inspection, including a leaking water heater, multiple power strip usage violations and use of unapproved kitchen appliances in bedrooms.
Under normal circumstances, Newman Hall, which ranks high among the housing with the most violations each year, conducts a pre-inspection of all residents’ rooms. Staff will highlight items that violate fire regulations and leave a door tag to remind residents to solve the problem before inspection, Jennifer LaMontagne, communications director for Newman Hall, said.
“Because of COVID protocols in 2020 and 2021, this pre-inspection process was a self-inspection that we asked residents to conduct themselves and certify via an online form, rather than a staff walkthrough,” LaMontagne said.
Violations can lead to fires, damage or even health risks
Since 2018, more than 40 certified housing locations have been inspected for various housing violations each academic year.
Four private certified housing locations were among the top 10 locations with the most violations each year from 2018 to 2022: Newman Hall, Bromley Hall, Alpha Epsilon Pi, and Zeta Beta Tau.
Bromley Hall, Alpha Epsilon Pi and Zeta Beta Tau did not return multiple requests to comment.
LaMontagne, who is the director of marketing and communications at St. John’s Catholic Newman Center and Newman Hall, said that these safety violations were mainly related to students, such as furniture blocking the exit of the security office, heat-producing appliances and the improper use of extension cords and power strips.
A CU-CitizenAccess analysis of City of Champaign inspection reports of obtained via a Freedom of Information Act request found:
- From 2018 to 2019, 49 facilities were inspected and 1,522 violations were found. After the first re-inspection, 331 items still needed rectification.
- From 2019 to 2020, 45 facilities were inspected for 1,074 violations, a 29% drop in total violations compared to last year. Pi Kappa Phi has undergone the most reinspections, as the only location with violations remaining after the third reinspection.
- From 2020 to 2021, a total of 44 facilities were inspected and 710 violations were found, a 34% decrease from the previous school year.
- The latest year’s data shows 43 facilities were inspected and 782 violations were found, a 9% increase from last year.
For example, during an inspection in September 2018, Newman Hall was found that the Carbon Monoxide (CO) detectors on the 7th Floor North Hall had no sound when testing, and multiple CO detectors were missing in the hallway of the 1st Floor South Hall. After a month, Newman Hall corrected all violations that existed in September.
“Almost none of the cited violations are related to operations or maintenance of the facility, and for those few that are, we are grateful to have the opportunity to note and quickly correct,” LaMontagne said.
Newman Hall can accommodate about 600 students, and it housed 587 this past school year.
LaMontagne said they will help students and parents comply with fire safety regulations through emails and social media platforms before and after moving in. The use of UL-certified power strips with extended cords is acceptable.
“We supply links to approved power strips for purchase, and each year we also purchase a number of approved power strips ourselves in order to make them available for sale (at cost) to residents who need them,” she said.
According to Bromley Companies, Bromley Hall has a capacity of 731 beds and has a 100% occupancy each year, and even some students are on waitlists. Based on the website GreekRank, a popular website for discussing Greek life at different locations, Alpha Epsilon Pi is also popular with a popularity rating of 54.4% and Zeta Beta Tau is 5.4% more popular at 59.4%.
From 2018 to 2019, 23 certified housing locations required three reinspections, representing just under half of the total certified housing stock. In 2019-20, six facilities underwent three reinspections and cleared all violations, namely Delta Tau Delta, Alpha Sigma Phi, and Psi Upsilon.
From 2020 to 2021, seven housing locations underwent two reinspections, including Evans Scholars, Sigma Phi Epsilon and Alpha Gamma Rho. From 2021 to 2022, Zeta Beta Tau and Kappa Sigma underwent the most rechecks, totaling three times. Among them, Zeta Beta Tau has completed the third inspection and completely ended the violations, but data received did not indicate when Kappa Sigma cleared its violations.
Inspectors found six houses did not have any violations in their initial inspection this year. Illini Tower and Pi Beta Phi for three consecutive years had no violations at the first inspection for three consecutive years.
Additionally, some listed certified housing lacks detailed inspection data compared with others in the same year, indicating parts of the data may be incomplete. Bromley Hall and Triangle are missing reinspection violations and dates from 2021 to 2022, and 10 certified housing locations from 2020 to 2021 lose all information, such as University YMCA, Phi Kappa Theta, Sigma Phi Delta and Kappa Delta Rho.
Improper use of electrical appliances can trigger fire safety risks and pose a threat to occupants. LaMontagne said not all apartments could be certified for housing and undergo security checks like Newman Hall.
“Through the annual inspections that certified housing facilities undergo, our facilities have the opportunity to identify, address, and correct those issues in order to provide the safest possible environment for our residents,” LaMontagne said.
University Housing such as residence halls don’t undergo the local inspection process because they are state property.