How to revive "dead souls"?
Every year, between 300 and 1,300 "dead souls" — students registered but not living in their rooms — are evicted from St Petersburg University’s halls of residence.
In order to get to the heart of the matter, we will start by talking to students living in Hall of Residence No 2, located at: 20 Korablestroitelei Street, building 2, Vasilyevsky Island. Not just any students were selected for the interview, though. We talked to students who lived in the rooms or lodging units where "dead souls" were registered and later evicted. Without exception, the roommates and neighbours of the "dead souls" were not willing to give their names — all of the interviewed students asked for anonymity.
One of the students living on the 16th floor in Hall of Residence No 2 said that the evicted Daniil Podluzhnyi did not live in his room, but in the room next door, where nobody is living at the moment. In his opinion, the guys used the situation to their advantage: the two of them lived in a room intended for three lodgers. It was obvious that he did not judge the absent Daniil either.
We also talked to a medical student living on the fourth floor. He said he did not know the evictee Roman Pankin. He moved into the vacated accommodation only in April. Naturally, he expressed a negative attitude towards the "dead souls" — he had been on the waiting list for resettlement for more than two years. And he had to commute from the Peterhof campus to the city centre every day.
A philology student living on the eighth floor explained that she had never met the evicted Anastasiia Timofeeva. She had been living alone in her room all this time, while a student from China was living in the other room of the two-room apartment.
A student of the College of Physical Training and Sports, Economics and Technology at St Petersburg University, living on the fourth floor, did not know the evictees, but he had heard about them. He is living in a room with two roommates and he believes that this is the way it should be — i.e. playing by the rules.
Our student interviews revealed different attitudes towards the issue of "dead souls". These attitudes ranged from acceptance to outrage to indifference. Some students take advantage of the situation: they use the living space reserved for their roommate who is registered but is not living in the room. Some students expressed outrage because they could not move into accommodation that is formally occupied by a "dead soul". Many of the students lodging in the residence hall are rather indifferent about the matter. The fact that some places in the residence hall are unoccupied does not concern them.
There is also the University’s administration position. The University always seeks to support the students’ rights. Thus, on the one hand, non-resident students enrolled in St Petersburg University are entitled to lodging in a hall of residence upon their request. Student accommodation is provided in line with the Accommodation Regulations, which are regularly updated after discussions with the Student Council of St Petersburg University (Order dated 28 August 2019). On the other hand, the "dead souls" — as soon as they are discovered — are evicted to free up places in the halls of residence for other students. Not long ago, the issue of ‘dead souls’ was raised by Alisa Sherstennikova, a third-year philology student, who sent an enquiry to the Virtual Reception (Meetings with public by Chief Engineer Dmirii Mikhailov held on 27 April 2023) . Dmitrii Mikhailov, Head of the Department of Maintenance and Operation of Halls of Residence, Vice-Deputy of Deputy Senior Vice-Rector for Material Assets Management at St Petersburg University, invited the student for an in-person meeting. He explained that the economic interests of the University are negatively affected by this issue, because the places in the halls of residence are used inefficiently. Some of them are unoccupied, while there are students on the waiting list for resettlement. Indeed, they could not move into de facto vacant accommodation, because it is de jure occupied, since a tenancy agreement has already been signed with another student. The administration of St Petersburg University has long been fighting with "dead souls". In particular, students who, according to the data of the access control system, have appeared in the hall of residence (i.e. passed through the electronic turnstile) fewer than ten times during a month are regularly evicted. In such a case, the student is considered as not actually living there (A Fresh Start: The University halls of residence: past and present).
Such inspections are conducted in all halls of residence monthly throughout an academic year, with the exception of vacation periods. After finding those who failed to observe the terms and conditions of the tenancy agreement, the violators are evicted. Here are the results of the evictions for the years 2021-2023, as of 15 May 2023:
- 2021 — 292 persons (including: in Peterhof — 205; and on Vasilyevsky Island — 87)
- 2022 — 1,294 persons (including in Peterhof — 852 and on Vasilyevsky Island — 442)
- 2023 — 266 persons (including: in Peterhof — 169; and on Vasilyevsky Island — 97)
No disciplinary action is taken against the violators, but their tenancy agreements are terminated. Some students who had been evicted were later re-accommodated in the halls of residence at their request. There are not many of such cases, however, no more than five per cent. In the majority of cases, "dead souls" are students who had been granted academic leaves, which eventually ended.
Apparently, these measures are not sufficient, since "dead souls" keep appearing again and again. What do they think about this issue themselves? Why did they request a place in a hall of residence, but do not live there?
From talking to them, it became evident that those who failed to observe the terms of the tenancy agreement usually do not care about others’ interests. They focus on their own priorities and act accordingly. For example, Daniil Podluzhnyi, a fourth-year student in the History programme, said that he was living in Hall of Residence № 2 until three months ago (that is, until February 2023) when he found a part-time job and rented another accommodation. He did not check out of the residence hall just in case something went wrong. Viktoriia Pavlova, a second-year student in the Journalism programme, said that she had moved into Hall of Residence № 2 back in September 2022. She lived there for a couple of months, then rented another accommodation, and, as she explained, just forgot to check out. These students were evicted in April 2023; that is, for several months their places in the residence hall were de facto vacant.
In response to the question of how to solve the issue of "dead souls", Daniil Podluzhnyi said that he did not object to his eviction, but he wished he had been notified about it in advance. Viktoriia Pavlova proposed strengthening the hall of residence manager’s control over the lodgers. As it turned out, she did not imply that her absence could have been detected earlier. That was a reference to the fact that in her absence some of her belongings disappeared from her room (apparently, another student was living in "her" place).
Many students fail to observe the terms of the tenancy agreement because of the registration requirement for students who are not residents of St Petersburg. The University’s Passport and Visa Support Department register only those students who have signed a tenancy agreement to live in the University’s halls of residence. The fact of the matter is, when students rent accommodation, many landlords do not want to register them in their apartments. The students therefore keep their registration in the hall of residence. Indeed, it is impossible to "house" such students in the places that are currently under repair or are being prepared for renovation, because this contradicts the Accommodation Regulations in the University’s halls of residence.
How to solve the issue of ‘dead souls’? Vladimir Savinov, Vice-Rector for Educational Activity, suggested that students themselves should get involved in solving this issue. This should be done in order to help those students who want to move to the halls of residence on Vasilyevsky Island. Many of the students lodging there have friends or classmates who want to move in but have been unable to do so. To solve the issue, we need to develop a general negative perception and attitude among students towards the "dead souls" phenomenon. Vladimir Savinov believes that the issue should be discussed with student councils. One of the student councils of St Petersburg University may take the initiative, raising awareness among students and setting an example to other councils. It is essential that the student community agree on a common position on the issue. The situation will only change if the University students hold negative views about the "dead souls" and their accomplices.