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Erin Nguyen: Student legal services need advertisement

(Anh-Vy Pham/Daily Bruin)

By Erin Nguyen

Jan. 31, 2018 12:53 a.m.

We’ve all had those apartment quirks we hate. For example, I wasn’t too fond of the hundreds of bugs infesting my apartment or the burst pipe that leaked from the ceiling for the past month.

Sleep deprived and unable to live comfortably in my own apartment, I had no other choice but to wait for my apartment to be repaired because I didn’t know which legal resources I could use to protect myself.

Due to the great demand for off-campus housing in Westwood, landlords are free to name their own price for rent while also relaxing their standards of cleanliness and maintenance. As apartment-hunting season approaches, so too do stories of flooding, bug infestations and forced evictions.

Luckily for students, UCLA provides a variety of services to protect students from the horrors of Westwood housing.

The Undergraduate Student Association Council’s office of the internal vice president, for example, puts on an annual, comprehensive Off-Campus Living Fair at the beginning of winter quarter that covers all aspects of renting. At this year’s fair, Elizabeth Kemper, the director of Student Legal Services, presented on topics such as tenants’ rights and factors to consider before renting an apartment. Outside of the fair, students can also consult SLS for legal assistance in handling problems like landlord-tenant disputes for a one-time initial appointment fee of $10.

There’s just one problem: SLS doesn’t have an advertising budget and mainly relies on student groups to promote its resources. As a result, many students are unaware of the department’s resources.

The Off-Campus Living Fair is held during winter quarter, but a good number of students do not start hunting for apartments until spring quarter. While the fair provides valuable information to students through brochures and presentations, these resources are not easily accessible once the event ends.

UCLA needs to advertise SLS’ off-campus housing resources to students by making the information shared at housing workshops available online. The university should also make videos and presentation files from the housing workshops available online for students.

Furthermore, UCLA should allocate an advertising budget to SLS to allow it to promote its services and the information it presents. SLS already makes apartment hunting less daunting by publishing several user-friendly articles outlining tenants’ rights, and an advertising budget could help the center promote its services, such as legal aid in negotiating apartment leases.

SLS serves more than 3,000 students, with 30 percent of its caseload being landlord-tenant disputes, Kemper said. As such, there is no doubt that many students need guidance in navigating the complexities of off-campus housing.

The problem, however, is that these resources tend to pass under the radar.

“I wish Student Legal Services was better advertised as a resource to students, because it’s definitely accessible and financially accommodating,” said Gaurav Lalsinghani, a fourth-year statistics and political science student.

Lalsinghani is pursuing a lawsuit with the help of SLS. He initially pursued the case on his own, but his friend referred him to SLS.

Such referrals are typically how students stumble upon SLS’ resources. The department ends up relying on the groups it collaborates with, such as USAC, to advertise its events and services, Kemper said.

For example, SLS collaborated with USAC Office of the President last year to create a brochure with a wealth of information regarding apartment hunting, but the resource was only available during the Off-Campus Living Fair.

UCLA should allocate more funding to SLS so it can supplement the existing promotion of its services with marketing of its own. While it might not seem like UCLA’s job to aggressively advertise SLS, disseminating information about resources can make a big difference to students facing eviction or relocation because their apartment flooded.

Certainly, there’s the obvious question of where UCLA would procure the funds to finance these advertising campaigns. But the advertising fund does not need to be large. UCLA is anticipating a $4.2 billion endowment through its Centennial Campaign, which can easily fund such a small outreach budget. Even if SLS does not receive extra funding, UCLA can easily create an advertising internship program employing UCLA students who know the campus, how to advertise to their peers and are eager to work with SLS.

UCLA could also collaborate with student government leaders and SLS to make renters’ rights information available online. These webpages can then be shared with departments such as UCLA Housing, which can send out links to students as they move out of the dorms and into apartments.

Sleep and livable housing are essential to students’ academic success and SLS can help students fight for their right to live comfortably. In high stress situations like possible eviction or apartment flooding, students don’t have time to sift through the sea of articles on the internet, some of which may not even be accurate.

It’s easy to feel helpless and believe the only option is to just wait out housing situations. But having a well-advertised, centralized and accessible source of information can be empowering for students – especially those who find themselves blindsided by unexpected housing problems.

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Erin Nguyen | Alumnus
Nguyen was an Opinion columnist.
Nguyen was an Opinion columnist.
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