Stephany Reaves ’10 came home to an unwelcome surprise last summer: a $139.50 charge on her student account statement, accompanied by the cryptic note, “Floor Repair and Patch/Paint Walls.”

The summer before, she found a line on her statement telling her she had been fined $42 for “Failure to Clean Up” — even though, Reaves said, a custodian had complimented her and her suitemates’ cleaning efforts.

Yale collects between $20,000 and $25,000 every year in fines on students who have left their rooms unclean, using the proceeds to replace missing furniture, repaint walls and patch holes. But students are not told they have been fined until mid-summer, long after leaving campus. Even then, the notification consists of one line in a bill, leading some to question the transparency of the charges.

“Frankly, it was all kind of shrouded in mystery,” said Emmy Waldman ’11, who discovered she and her six suitemates had incurred a charge of $95 each for “Patch/Paint Walls” over the summer. “They just didn’t give us any information about the fine. I feel like I would have noticed $95-plus damage.”

Exactly what “Patch/Paint Walls” meant — and why it cost nearly $700 total — remains baffling to Waldman, who tried contacting a facilities supervisor but never received responses to all her questions.

On its face, the procedure seems straightforward: Facilities supervisors at each residential college assess any damage when they clean suites at the end of the year, Director of Facilities Operations Eric Uscinski said. The charges are split evenly between the occupants of each suite, who receive word of the fine on their July or August student account statements.

According to the Undergraduate Tenant Manual, damage charges can range from $10 for replacing a recycling bin to $550 for replacing a wardrobe. Restoring walls that have chipped or been painted non-standard colors costs at least $100 per wall, while general cleaning incurs a minimum $37-per-hour charge.

Although Yale’s Undergraduate Regulations warn that “students responsible for damage to their rooms or other University property will be charged for the cost of repairs,” on-campus residents leave their rooms in May without knowing whether they will be fined. But Uscinski said that since students have already moved out by the time their rooms are inspected, it is difficult to alert them to damages.

“If my parents hadn’t shown me the account, then I would have had no way of knowing,” said Riley Ford ’11, who was fined $10 for general cleaning. “That’s very sneaky.”

Director of Student Financial Services Caesar Storlazzi said his office had discussed asking facilities supervisors to notify students in advance of the charge. But he cautioned that change would come slowly, as the supervisors of all 12 residential colleges must cooperate to implement early notification.

“Essentially, the charge should not be a surprise to the student,” Storlazzi said. “The fact that a room is left in an unsatisfactory way — the sooner a student knows that, the student should be able to dispute that.”

Once back in New Haven, students can contest fines by e-mailing the facilities supervisor for their residential college.

If students can show that their rooms were damaged to begin with, or that their suitemates were responsible for the damage, facilities supervisors can withdraw the fines, Uscinski said.

“We’ve rescinded fines in some cases where the student was able to say that wasn’t their fault,” he said.

Yet when Waldman e-mailed Pierson’s facilities supervisor, Robert Daly, she said, she received no reply until she asked her college master to intervene. Likewise, when Reaves attempted to dispute her fine after her sophomore year, the facilities supervisor stopped responding. She was unsuccessful again this year, she said.

“Especially since charges never show up until the August bill when we’ve been gone for months, it’s particularly difficult to get the charges removed,” Reaves said. “Our word against theirs at that point.”

Daly could not be reached for comment.

Still, administrators insisted, cleanup charges are not designed to punish students or serve as an extra source of income for the residential colleges. The fines are a way of deterring students from leaving their rooms a mess, Council of Masters Chair Jonathan Holloway said.

“It’s teaching good manners,” Holloway said, “leaving something the way you found it.”