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University enforces PEV policy during fire inspections

An electric scooter on wooden flooring, tagged with a reminder of the personal electric vehicle (PEV) policy. A green slip of paper in front of the scooter, confirming the dormitory received a fire inspection on Jan. 30 2024.
Electric scooter found in fire inspection.
Vitus Larrieu / The Daily Princetonian

Residents of Joline Hall and Dod Hall expressed discomfort following alleged personal electric vehicle (PEV) searches that occurred during routine fire safety inspections last Tuesday. This comes five days after the new policy banning the operation, charging, and storage of electric vehicles went into effect.

In an email to The Daily Princetonian, University spokesperson Michael Hotchkiss wrote that “following the revised PEV policy, effective Jan. 25, 2024, housing inspectors will now tag and remove PEVs if discovered during routine inspections.” As of the time of publication, this change has not been added to either the fire inspection policy or the PEV policy. The Fire Inspection policy does, however, mention that “Motorized vehicles (motor-bikes, mopeds, motorcycles and scooters) with fuel tanks may not be stored or parked in or near a dormitory.”

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“As with other items that have been confiscated as a violation of University policy, students may claim PEVs for repossession at the end of the semester,” Hotchkiss wrote.

According to the Housing Operations email from Sept. 8th, fire inspections in residential buildings are “unscheduled and unannounced.” Hotchkiss wrote that all rooms are inspected at least three times every year to “ensure compliance with University and municipal/state fire safety regulations.”

Luke Cho ’27, a resident of Joline Hall, said that he and his roommates did not have PEVs in their dorm, but fire safety officers “tagged and reported” scooters of other residents in his entryway around 10 a.m. Tuesday morning.

“They just kind of took a glance around, and in particular, they looked in this area behind my bed,” Cho told the ‘Prince.’ “When they did it, just like as an aside, they said, and I quote, ‘Oh, yeah, we’re just checking if there are scooters behind there.’”

Hotchkiss wrote that with the exception of candles, “tags are left in the room for any items that are confiscated during fire safety inspections so that students can reclaim their confiscated items at a designated break period for removal from campus.”

Other residents expressed surprise that fire inspections began in the first week of the spring semester. Gabriela Veciana ’24, a resident of Dod Hall, told the ‘Prince’ that she initially assumed fire safety was there to investigate a specific complaint, and thought that students usually “get an email before the checks start.”

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“[Fire inspections] have been [random and unannounced] for my whole four years at Princeton, but… they tell you in an email when the inspections are going to begin, so this sort of totally random inspection felt weird,” she said.

Housing Operations notified undergraduates by email in September that routine fire inspections would begin starting on Sept. 18, 2023. The email said that “rooms are inspected several times during the school year” with the purpose of “insuring the highest standards of fire safety in the dormitories.”

In years prior, Housing Operations has sent students multiple reminders in the form of emails ahead of new inspection rounds. In an email from Monday, Nov. 14, 2022, Housing Operations sent an email to the student body saying that dormitory fire inspections would resume the following Wednesday, Nov. 16. The email stated that any dormitories which had not already been inspected, would be inspected prior to reading period that December. A further email sent on Jan. 27, 2023, informed students that fire inspections had been restarted for the spring semester.

Veciana said that she learned of the fire inspection on Tuesday after a Dod resident sent a message to the building’s GroupMe. She said that “people tend to adjust the way they’re living” when they receive a notice of a fire safety inspection to avoid fines for possession of unauthorized appliances or safety violations. Veciana said that she and her roommates were fined $200 last year for hanging string lights too close to a sprinkler head.

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According to the fire policy, tampering with or obstructing smoke detectors or sprinklers results in a $200 fine. The Housing and Real Estate Services website states that inspectors leave a notice of confiscation or notice of inspection in students’ dorms.

The email from September said that area coordinators work in teams of two and inspections last no longer than five minutes in each room. Inspections, conducted between 9:30 a.m. and 3:30 p.m. are “intended to cause minimal inconvenience to students while allowing the inspectors to do their jobs effectively.”

Students present for the inspections are encouraged to address any violations if they believe “the situation is not in violation of policy”; the inspector[s] will then “consider the student’s explanation.” Students can also appeal for any “difficulties [they experience] with the fire inspection process,” according to the Housing and Real Estate Services webpage.

Elisabeth Stewart is an assistant News editor for the ‘Prince.’

Please send corrections to corrections[at]dailyprincetonian.com.