As students return to Philadelphia for the remote fall semester, those who chose to retrieve their stored dorm items from University-sanctioned moving companies hoped to be reunited with their belongings after five months. Many students, however, were alarmed to find that some of their belongings were either missing or damaged, and demand compensation.
Many students believe the lost and damaged belongings were the result of a disorganized process with little oversight from Penn and poor record keeping from moving companies, where packers hastily filled out packing slips meant to catalogue and inventory students' items, failed to video conference with students during the packing process, and did not properly label boxes or attribute items to roommates. Students are calling on Penn to take responsibility and compensate for lost or damaged items.
Penn Business Services Director of Communications and External Relations Barbara Lea-Kruger wrote in an email to The Daily Pennsylvanian Monday evening that insurance claims submitted to National Student Services, Inc. will be honored. Claims will be settled unconditionally and subject to a limit of $4,500.
"When submitting a claim, a student is attesting that their claim submission is honest and truthful," she wrote.
College sophomore Michelle Fang said that after she requested her items be shipped to her home address, her assigned moving company School Storage informed her in mid-August that it did not possess any of her belongings and found her room empty when the packers arrived. Fang said that she never moved her belongings out of her room and is considering legal action if the moving company cannot locate them.
“I am very disappointed in the current situation and devastated at the possibility of losing all of my belongings," Fang wrote in an email to School Storage. "There were both very monetarily valuable items, as well as priceless sentimental items in my room I have had since my childhood that I cannot imagine losing."
Of the items missing, Fang is most concerned about the loss of her social security card, passport, clothes, and sentimental items such as handwritten letters and photographs. School Storage has since been able to locate her floor lamp and some bedroom furniture and suspects her other belongings were mistakenly packed in boxes under another student's name.
Fang expressed frustration with both Residential Services and School Storage, who she says have not been working together to locate her items or respond to her inquiries in a timely manner.
“Yes, the [moving] company is to blame, but ultimately Penn was the one that is responsible for all of my belongings — I was living in a Penn building, and I am a Penn student,” Fang said.
Students were unable to choose the moving company to store their belongings as Residential Services assigned moving companies to students in May.
In an email to Fang, however, a representative of School Storage wrote, “Over the 17 years of service: we have not lost a single item that we collected and stored for our customers.”
Fang said if she had been able to video conference with the movers as they packed her belongings this summer, her dorm items would most likely not have been misplaced.
Residential Services promised students the opportunity to schedule a video conference with their assigned moving company during the packing process — yet very few students had the opportunity to do so, leaving many students in limbo about which of their belongings were stored.
With approval from his college house dean, Quad residential advisor and College senior Charles Curtis Thomas said he was allowed to keep his items in his dorm room for the summer, as he planned to live in the same room for the 2020-2021 academic year. When he returned to his room a few weeks ago, however, he found that many of his items were missing or damaged: his television and microwave were nowhere to be found, ceramic plates were cracked and unusable, and a large full-length mirror was smashed, with loose glass scattered onto the floor.
Thomas said he was not made aware his dorm items would be packed up and is still not sure why they were packed up at all.
"There was a level of carelessness when they were storing my things in boxes," Thomas said. "I think when the packers arrived, [my belongings] were kind of thrown in any which way, so a lot of the stuff was broken, missing or otherwise."
Some students said they believe part of the problem lies in the moving company’s record keeping procedures. While College sophomore Heather Schneps said her packing slips had descriptions of lost items, Wharton sophomore Yaaseen Mahomed said his slips had scribbles he could barely read. Others said they received fewer boxes than indicated on their packing slips.
Schneps said when she picked up her belongings at Penn, her television set was missing, although it was listed on her packing slip. Schneps never received a video call from her assigned moving company School Storage during the packing process.
Schneps plans to file an insurance claim to School Storage for monetary compensation for her lost television.
“Especially during corona[virus], every dollar counts and losing a couple hundred dollars [on a television] is no joke," she said. "During these times, I'm not taking that lightly."
Residential Services wrote in an email to students on Aug. 18 that students who wish to retrieve their belongings can either pick them up for free from the Penn Tennis Center located on 31st and Walnut streets from Aug. 25 to Sept. 1, excluding Aug. 30, or have their items shipped to them at their own expense. If students do not wish to retrieve their belongings, the University will cover the cost of storing students’ items until January 2021.
College sophomore Ashna Yakoob picked up her belongings from the Penn Tennis Center and realized that the number of boxes she received did not match the number of boxes indicated on her packing slip. She was missing boxes of textbooks and assorted valuables such as family jewelry.
Yakoob made two more trips to the Penn Tennis Center to retrieve more of her belongings, which School Storage had accidentally packed in her roommates' boxes. After the third visit, which she made on Thursday, she still had not recovered all of her items.
Yakoob, who lives in off-campus housing, added she had to scramble to find transportation for her trips to the Penn Tennis Center. She paid for a rental car on Tuesday, an expense she said could have been avoided had her belongings been catalogued correctly.
In another mix-up, Mahomed said that when he retrieved his belongings, School Storage only returned two winter coats with the rest of his clothes missing. After corresponding with School Storage, he determined that nearly all of his clothing was packed with his roommate’s belongings.
“It's clear that they didn't put a lot of effort into making sure that packing slips have a lot of information about students’ stuff,” Mahomed said.
Wharton sophomore Evan Light Rake said that when he retrieved his items from the Penn Tennis Center, he noticed that a stash of money he had kept in a box was missing. Although the cash was gone, which he estimates was a couple hundred dollars, he retrieved other belongings from the same drawer where he kept the box.
Because his packing slip does not contain any information about cash, Light Rake said he doubts he will be able to receive compensation from an insurance claim.
Mahomed said Penn should be held accountable for the moving companies’ mistakes.
"Penn created this problem. This is causing a lot of stress and frustration because of the numerous mistakes, mishaps, and delivery fees placed on students. [Penn] really needs to take more responsibility for this whole process," Mahomed said.
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