A sorority accused of charging University of Washington students for housing they couldn’t stay in during the beginning of the coronavirus pandemic will pay more than $250,000 in refunds.
The Washington state Attorney General’s Office announced the consent decree Wednesday, The Seattle Times reported.
Early last year, Attorney General Bob Ferguson’s office sued Tennessee-based Alpha Omicron Pi, or AOII, accusing the sorority of violating emergency regulations by charging University of Washington members housing fees even as students couldn’t stay in the sorority’s Greek Row house.
"This sorority took advantage of students, charging them thousands of dollars for housing they could not access or use," Ferguson said in a statement.
AOII continues to deny wrongdoing in the consent decree. A lawyer for the organization didn’t provide comment Wednesday.
Sorority members agreed to pay for housing and meals in early 2020, according to the state’s lawsuit. When the pandemic hit, the sorority "drastically reduced" the number of students who could live in the house. The sorority later gave members the option of closing the house entirely, which they voted to do, but still charged them fees, the state said.
After warnings that their unpaid fees could end up in collections, sorority members said they felt intense pressure to pay.
Washington’s coronavirus regulations barred rent charges when tenants couldn’t access their housing. Ferguson also accused the sorority of violating the state Consumer Protection Act.
In court filings, the sorority disputed the state’s description of events and said students made "false and misleading" statements. The sorority claimed it "had every right to charge the fees … on account of validly entered contracts."
The state accused the sorority of trying to "remake this case into an eviction action or contract dispute," when it was in fact a "straightforward case to enforce the Governor’s emergency COVID orders."
Under the consent decree, AOII will waive or reimburse most fees charged to each member.
AOII will pay a total of $253,600 to the attorney general’s office, which will pay back the students. When including both AOII’s payment and waived fees, the agreement amounts to about $500,000, according to the attorney general’s office.
The Attorney General’s Office will contact students about reimbursements.