On Wednesday, Sept. 27, attorney Sean O’Mara spoke to students in the Coe Room of the Memorial Union about protecting and understanding students’ legal rights and responsibilities at the University of Maine. Few universities offer free legal consultations to students from an attorney who is not affiliated directly with the university system.
Instead, O’Mara works as a part of the student government, allowing him the opportunity to advocate and support students while somewhat distancing himself from the University of Maine System. As a part of the University of Maine Student Government (UMSG), he cannot testify against UMaine.
The primary issue O’Mara spoke about was the relationship between students and landlords. Many students of the University are required to enter leases with local landlords who will often take advantage of the inexperience of college students to manipulate their contracts in illegal ways. O’Mara emphasizes that if you sign a lease, you should bring it to him first.
“It is the express intention of the student government this year to establish ‘tenants’ rights associations,” said O’Mara.
O’Mara’s office, being a part of the student government, is attempting to establish and enforce organized groups of tenants where renters can express their concerns together.
O’Mara suggests that there are several unreliable landlords in the Old Town-Orono area who will threaten and attempt to scare tenants while sometimes violating the rights of renters.
“Old Town and Orono know about this. They have the ability to stop these landlords,” O’Mara said.
O’Mara advised that landlords who insist on an immediate signing often attempt to conceal information and offered his support to students so they can avoid being taken advantage of.
Apart from legal support for renters, O’Mara assists students with protecting their intellectual property, finding legal representation for petty crime, creation of companies and many other services that could be useful to a college student.
On-campus students are presented with other issues that challenge acceptable living conditions. Lack of air conditioning at the beginning of this semester made classrooms uncomfortable.
Furthermore, an ongoing infestation of cockroaches in dormitories and other campus buildings poses health concerns for students living on campus. O’Mara encourages students to advocate for their rights to live in a safe environment. His office and team can help advise students on how to get active politically and get involved in making positive changes.
It is an incredibly unique opportunity to have a lawyer so accessible to the student body, yet there remains limited awareness of his services. The objective of this week’s meeting was twofold: one, to give general legal advice about renting a living space, interacting with the police and other matters concerning students, and two, to advertise his services to students who otherwise would be oblivious to the existence of free attorney services on campus.
To contact Sean O’Mara, you can find his contact information on his website, email him at firstname.lastname@example.org, or visit his office to the right of the Wade Center (commuter lounge) in the basement of the Memorial Union.