A look at life for students staying at Fairfield Inn

For the past month, more than 100 students have been living in a hotel two miles away from FAU. Why? Because Housing oversigned on contracts — whose rules may not be enforceable off campus.


24-year-old mechanical engineering major Kate McPartland’s hotel bedroom is a king single that she pays $5,680 for, a price higher than any listed on-campus rate. Photo by Violet Castano

Hope Dean, Managing Editor

It’s a few weeks into the school year, and Kate McPartland is still living out of her suitcase.

Her room only has two drawers and a small closet for storage. But it isn’t all bad. She sleeps in a king-size bed whose linens are changed once a week, gets free breakfast every morning, and may not have to follow Housing’s rules.

McPartland is one of 109 students currently living in the Fairfield Inn and Suites because FAU Housing oversigned on contracts. Essentially, there were too many students and not enough dorms.

But the students living in the hotel did not sign a new version of the contract that applies to the University Housing system, whose buildings are all on a public campus. And according to a lawyer the University Press consulted, this means the contract may not be enforceable because students are living on private, hotel property.    

The UP reached out to Housing for comment, but did not receive a response as of publication time.

Not all is fair at Fairfield Inn

Students found out there weren’t enough on-campus rooms just weeks before school started.

They had the option of choosing to live in the hotel, joining a waiting list, or canceling their contract and finding somewhere off-campus to live.

After receiving a mass email from Housing notifying students what happened, McPartland chose to live at the hotel. She said she expected more than just an email with such a sudden change.

“I kind of thought there was going to be more involvement from Housing to be honest, just because it seemed like there was a lot of concern [with] students living in a hotel,” she said.

McPartland’s room looks bare because she hasn’t unpacked — she’s still living out of the two blue suitcases by the window due to lack of storage. Photo by Violet Castano

Students’ rooms were chosen for them based on three criteria: if they’ve lived in FAU Housing before, the date they completed their contract, and if they had completed class registration, according to an FAQ page the university released. The 109 students make up two floors of the nearby hotel.

McPartland currently lives in a king-size single, and though she’s enjoying not having any suitemates, she said the lack of available food is frustrating.

While there’s free breakfast from 6:30-9:30 a.m., students don’t have any options for lunch or dinner, aside from a tiny “market” that offers bagged chips, nuts, and candy. If they were living on campus, they’d have access to the full-service dining hall from 7 a.m. to at least 7:30 p.m. depending on the day.

Because of this, she’s started buying “Soylent,” a meal-replacement drink.

Communications and political science major Madison Andrews also chose to live at Fairfield. She shares a room with pre-med student Nicole Merus.

Madison Andrews is a 20-year-old communication and political science double major and shares her room with 24-year-old pre-med student Nicole Merus. Photo by Violet Castano

The two are dealing with the same issues McPartland’s facing: not enough storage or food.

To store her clothes, Andrews bought several large plastic tubs, which “was not the most fun $200 I’ve had to spend,” she said.

And to make up for the lack of regular meals, Merus said, “We literally live off of ramen, cereal, and SpaghettiOs, and ravioli.”

Andrews added, “Even though we get free breakfast, having to eat out for every other meal or have ramen or soup or something that we can heat up in the microwave — A) It’s not healthy, and B) It’s really expensive. That’s been a huge expense that we didn’t anticipate.”

There’s also the issue of how students get to campus.

While FAU set up a shuttle to take students to and from campus, there have been complaints about it running late. It’s supposed to run every half hour from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m., but it’s rarely on time, Andrews said.

This was the case on the first day of school, when the shuttle was over 40 minutes late, she added.

“We’ve already complained to management about [the shuttle]. Multiple people, actually, not just us. The shuttle is never on time. If they have people, they leave early,” Andrews said. “It’s just a waiting game. If you’re not there at least 30 to 40 minutes before your class there’s a good chance that you’re going to get screwed over.”

Off-Campus, Off-Duty?

The FAQ page the university released states that “All student Code of Conduct and Housing policies are in effect,” which may not be true.

With the version of the contract the students signed, typical Housing rules — including the guest policy, alcohol policy, and RA checks — are all under question.

Frank LoMonte, who’s worked as a lawyer for the government, nonprofits, and private practice, doesn’t think Housing’s rules can be enforced at the hotel. He maintains that for Housing to impose their policies, students living in the hotel would need to sign a new contract.

“Within reason, you can contract away your constitutional rights, including privacy rights, so FAU’s level of authority will be governed by whatever agreement the tenants sign,” he told the UP via phone. “But when it’s a privately owned housing unit off the campus premises … then it clearly isn’t covered by the contract that applies to on-campus Housing. They would need some different contractual language.”

Yet the RA meetings, where the resident assistants outline Housing’s rules, aren’t running any differently, Merus said.

“They said, ‘Don’t [break the rules],’ but then they haven’t really enforced it … I feel like they said it just to say that they said it.”

The Housing community guide, which details the FAU Housing policies, states that students can have overnight guests for up to 15 nights per semester, with a maximum of two guests at a time for no longer than three consecutive nights.

The guests are usually required to sign in at the dorm’s front desk, but this hasn’t been enforced at the hotel.

The alcohol policy at the hotel isn’t as clean-cut as the other rules, however. The “unlawful possession, use or abuse of alcohol” isn’t allowed “in and on all property owned, leased or controlled (temporarily or permanently) by the university,” but whether students living in the Fairfield Inn counts as FAU “controlling” a space is still up for debate.

“It depends now what their relationship is with the hotel … if it’s more than just referring people there to [fill] the rooms, if they actually have a block of rooms that they control there. I’ve seen language like that in the past,” LoMonte said. “Sometimes a university will use a stadium or athletic facility that’s also used by a pro team, so they control it during the time they’re using that, so their rules would apply.”

In the on-campus dorms, RAs are allowed to enter the room and conduct room checks without the student’s permission. They can’t open any drawers, but they can confiscate anything illicit that’s in plain sight, like alcohol in a room with people under 21.

But because the hotel is on private property, LoMonte again maintains they may not have a legal right to enter a hotel room without permission.

Underage and students who are of legal drinking age are also sharing rooms with each other at the hotel. While this is allowed under FAU rules, students over 21 are not allowed to consume alcohol in the presence of anyone underage, at least in the dorms.

“But the funny thing is, I’m 20 and [Merus] is 24, and we’re roommates … And we’re not the only case of that,” Andrews said.

Merus added: “So I mean, what’s to stop me from … going to Walmart and getting a big bottle of vodka? What’s to stop her from drinking it, you know?”

Nicole Merus sits at the small desk that she shares with her roommate Madison Andrews. The two have turned it into a bookcase and coffee pit stop, while their printer rests under one of the chairs provided by the hotel. Photo by Violet Castano

LoMonte said if an RA enters a hotel room without permission, they could be violating the Fourth Amendment, which protects people from “unreasonable” searches and seizures.

“When it’s a privately owned housing unit off the campus premises, then a contract applying to ‘on campus’ housing shouldn’t apply, and any representative of the university would need a warrant before entering a resident’s home without consent,” LoMonte said. “If there is no legal right to enter that housing unit, then that’s a violation of the Fourth Amendment rights. A lawsuit could be brought up, and … damages could be awarded.”

Money Matters

The cost of the hotel rooms is also different from the on-campus dorms. The FAQ sheet lists out each type of hotel room’s “equivalent” on-campus room type and rate and not all of them match up.

Students staying in a standard double pay $3,650 per semester, the same as a super-double rate at Heritage Park Towers and Glades Park Towers. But students staying in the king suite — which can house two students and has a bed and a pull-out couch — pay $5,180, the same as an IVA four-bed/two-bath apartment with a large common area. And students staying in a king single pay $5,680, a price higher than any of the on-campus dorm rates.

“I think I try to reason it with myself by saying … if it costs $100 to stay in a hotel per night I’m definitely getting a bargain, but as far as four months of living, it’s a wild amount of rent to pay,” McPartland said about her king single.

Finding Family

Despite the last-minute residence change, students so far seem to enjoy living at Fairfield.

Study groups in the lobby, hangouts in the hotel pool, and movie nights at the nearby Cinemark Palace 20 on student discount days are common, Andrews and Merus said. Over 10 kids sometimes pack into a single hotel room to cheer on FAU during televised football games, summoned by the group chat that’s made up of half the hotel floor.

“You know ‘Jersey Shore,’ they’re like a family or whatever, we’re like Fairfield Inn. Not even Inn. We’re just Fairfield,” Merus said.

And while it took some getting used to, students have said the hotel has its upsides. McPartland enjoys the solitude of her single room. Merus appreciates the free breakfast. Andrews loves the community.

And compared to the tiny twin dorm mattresses, the hotel beds don’t hurt either.

“We literally sleep like bricks,” Merus said.

Hope Dean is the managing editor of the University Press. For information regarding this or other stories, email [email protected].