Sorority ordered to refund, waive $500K in unlawful housing fees on UW students

Washington Attorney General Bob Ferguson said national sorority Alpha Omicron Pi charged thousands in housing fees for University of Washington students during the COVID-19 pandemic, even though students were unable to access that housing.

Ferguson ordered the sorority to refund or waive the housing fees, as they were a violation of Gov. Inslee’s eviction moratorium.

According to the Attorney General’s Office, the sorority demanded housing payments and late fees from students staying at their house in UW’s Greek Row, even during the height of the pandemic, when students were unable to access it. Ferguson claims they threatened to refer these late fees to debt collection agencies, threatened to revoke sorority membership and implied students’ credit history would tank.

The moratorium forbade landlords from charging housing fees when residents lost access to the housing due to the pandemic. It also prohibited property owners from threatening to refer residents to debt collectors, or from charging late fees.

According to the Attorney General’s Office, 13 UW students filed complaints to the COVID-19 eviction moratorium enforcement team, but at least 68 students were charged unlawful fees by the sorority.

"It did not feel fair that I would be required to pay for the bills of the chapter house when I could not live there… At the time, I lived paycheck to paycheck and worked part-time jobs on top of my classes," wrote one student. "I was not the only person in a tight financial situation. I knew other sisters who lost their retail jobs during the pandemic as well. But whenever we raised these health and financial concerns with our alumni advisors, we were told to focus on ‘sisterhood.’"

Alpha Omicron Pi must notify students within 30 days that students no longer owe the housing fees charged during the 2020–21 school year. Students who paid any amount of the charges are to receive full reimbursement, totaling more than $500,000 in relief.

RELATED: Auburn lawmaker pushes bill to keep UW, WSU in Pac-12

Get breaking news alerts in the FREE FOX 13 Seattle app. Download for Apple iOS or Android. And sign up for BREAKING NEWS emails delivered straight to your inbox.

Ferguson filed a lawsuit in Jan. 2021 saying the sorority violated the state eviction moratorium and the Washington Consumer Protection Act, as they were aware of the moratorium as they continued to charge students.

"This sorority took advantage of students, charging them thousands of dollars for housing they could not access or use," said Ferguson. "Alpha Omicron Pi’s actions were clear violations of the protections put in place to protect Washingtonians from the spread of COVID-19. Thanks to the students who spoke up and brought this to our attention, the sorority must cancel or refund these unlawful fees."