Laws to Know

Student practicing in a court room setting

There are many laws in the United States that you should know when you arrive (or before!) so that you know how to stay out of trouble, especially because any violation of the law could jeopardize your immigration status. It’s better to know now than to figure it out later on when you’re already in trouble.

  • Alcohol and Drug Use
  • Illegal Downloading / File Sharing
  • Sexual harassment, assault, domestic violence, rape
  • Renter’s Rights

Alcohol and Drug Use

The alcohol laws in the US can actually be very strict so make sure you read the following information. While you may be able to drink under the age of 21 in your country, drinking under the age of 21 (underage drinking) is taken very seriously here. You will always be asked for your Identification (with valid birthdate on it) when you go to a bar or purchase alcohol, so always expect that.

Helpful Hint:

If you don’t want to carry around your passport all the time, and don’t want to take the chance that the bar/store/restaurant you’re going to doesn’t accept international identification as valid ID, we suggest you get an Alaska ID Card. See the Alaska ID page for more details on how to get one of these!

Drinking in public/outside:

  • Drinking alcoholic beverages in public is against UAF policy.
  • It is illegal to consume alcohol if you are under 21 years of age.
  • Buying alcoholic beverages for, or giving it to, a person under 21 years of age is illegal.
  • It is illegal to operate a car, boat or anything with an engine while intoxicated (DUI).
  • Having an open container of alcohol in the car is illegal, whether you are a driver or passenger.
  • Use or purchase of tobacco products while under 19 years of age is illegal.
  • Recreational use of illegal drugs, such as marijuana, is against UAF policy and against U.S. Federal law.
  • Driving or while using drugs (even prescription medication) where it can affect your driving is illegal (DUI).
  • University of Alaska campuses are smoke and tobacco free. Use of these products is limited to within personal vehicles in authorized parking lots.

Possible consequences:

If you are contacted by a law enforcement officer and are charged with a crime, it is important to know your legal rights in the U.S.  The American Civil Liberties Union has prepared information about legal rights in the U.S. (PDF) that addresses what rights you have when you are stopped, questioned, arrested, or searched by law enforcement officers.  There is a special section for non-U.S. citizens included.  If you have been arrested or believe that your rights have been violated, it is important to seek legal advice.

  • You could be convicted of a misdemeanor or felony and could have a criminal record for the rest of your life. Sentences could include jail time and/or a monetary fine ranging from a few hundred dollars to over $1,000 depending on the severity of the offense.
  • If convicted of a DUI:
    • Other countries could deny you entry based on a U.S. conviction. An example is Canada and alcohol-related criminal offenses such as DUI.
    • Your U.S. visa could be revoked and it could be difficult to obtain a new one if you travel outside the U.S.
  • A criminal record could prevent you from being a doctor, a lawyer, a credentialed teacher, and many more professions. Many employment applications ask if you have ever been arrested or convicted of a crime.
  • The applications for many graduate programs ask if you ever have been convicted of a crime.
    • Pay huge increases in insurance premiums.
    • Lose your driver’s license for at least 90 days.
    • Have a criminal record for DUI.
    • Pay a fine and fees of more than $1,500, depending on the level of the offense.
    • Be required to attend a costly and time consuming alcohol abuse program.  (This is required for any UAF-related alcohol policy violation.)

Illegal Downloading/File Sharing

It's easy to get access to our favorite entertainment from the Internet; but some ways of doing this aren't legal, putting you at risk for being sued by the entertainment industry and being sanctioned for a violation of the Student Conduct Code. File sharing also carries risks to your computer through viruses and malware often contained within the material you download.

There are many ways to find legal sources of digital entertainment. The UAF Office of Information Technology has guidelines regarding downloading copyrighted material here (PDF). Additional information is available from  Bird Trax at Illinois State University and the list maintained by EDUCAUSE. With so many legal sources, there's no reason not to "get legal"!

It is legal to:

  • Make a personal backup copy of content that you have purchased
  • It is usually legal to make copies of licensed-waived music videos, games, and software that are posted free on the Internet.

It is not legal to:

  • Copy purchased content from a friend’s computer, such as a record album.
  • Download copyrighted material (files sold online or in stores) from a Peer-to-Peer network without paying for it on a file-by-by basis; there are a number of bogus schemes where consumers pay for a P2P service that is promoted as legal, but there are no legal P2P networks that allow you to consume all you want by paying one fee.
  • Share tracks with others even if it is purchased legally
  • Remove the digital rights management (DRM) protections from a track so you can copy it to your iPod or other portable player
  • Download otherwise purchasable music videos, games for free from a website in a foreign country.
  • Use BitTorrent, a P2P file sharing communications protocol, to copy and share copyrighted material without copyright holder permission; use of BitTorrent itself IS legal, however, for other purposes.
  • Use email or Instant Messaging to distribute copyrighted material to friends.

Sexual harassment, assault, domestic violence, rape

  • Sexual harassment is defined as any unwanted touching or sexually suggestive conversations, especially when it interferes with academic or work performance and/or could be tied in to grades or job advancement. This is against UAF policy and should be reported to the International Advisor.
  • Sexual assault is any sexual contact or penetration (rape) without the consent of the recipient.
  • Stalking is following an individual around, persistently giving unwanted attention, or any action that produces fear of death or physical injury. Stalking can also be by telephone or mail, or other electronic means.
  • Harassment is persistently receiving unwanted attention or any action that produces fear.  Harassment can also be by telephone or mail, or other electronic means.  The actual definition is:  With intent to harass or annoy, phones another and fails to terminate the connection, or makes repeated calls at extremely inconvenient times, or makes anonymous (or non-anonymous) obscene calls or e mails to another. The person being harassed may be either male or female; also, the person doing the harassment may be male or female, another student, an employee or professor.  Harassment may be males towards other males and females harassing other females.
  • Assault is using words or conduct to cause fear of immediate physical injury.
  • Domestic violence is the crime of harassment, stalking, assault, etc., acted upon a current or past domestic partner.  The sex of the victim or assailant doesn’t matter.

Renter's rights

There are many laws in place that protect a person who rents an apartment from a landlord. Make sure you know your rights so that you don’t get taken advantage of.

Condition of the Apartment

You should take certain steps to document the amount of the security deposit and the condition of your apartment. When you give your landlord the deposit, get a writing indicating the amount you paid and that it is a deposit. If you pay in cash, it is advisable to get a receipt from the landlord.

Helpful Hint:

  • Be sure to give the landlord a written list of any problems with the apartment when you move in and make sure you keep a copy of this list.
  • Both when you move in and at the time you vacate the apartment, you should take photographs that will show the condition of the apartment.


Security Deposit

Alaska law allows landlords to collect a “security” from tenants. This “security” includes your security deposit, cleaning fee, last month’s rent, and any fees the landlord charges to process a new tenant. The security may not be more than two months’ rent if the apartment is unfurnished or three months’ rent if the apartment is furnished.

Your landlord must return your security deposit to you after you have vacated your apartment. If the landlord makes any deductions from the total amount of your security deposit, the landlord also must give you an itemized written statement of these deductions. The landlord may make deductions for unpaid rent, for damage caused by the tenant that is in excess of ordinary wear and tear, and for cleaning the apartment, if necessary to return it to the same level of cleanliness as at the outset of the tenancy. You also are entitled to documentation supporting the deductions, such as repair or cleaning invoices.

Terminating your lease

Unless the landlord gives you written permission to terminate your lease early, you run the risk of owing the landlord a substantial amount of money if you break the lease. A lease or rental agreement for a period of time creates the obligation for you to pay rent for the entire period, even if you are no longer living in the apartment.

This obligation may be terminated if you and the landlord both sign a written agreement modifying the term of the lease.