A turbulent relationship

(Photo by Cristina Rucchetta)

Dealing with a landlord is a process that is new to most students — and it’s not always easy.

“I think from time-to-time over the years you could say there has been issues associated with more absentee landlords,” explained David McMurray, the vice-president of student affairs at Wilfrid Laurier University, who has been heavily involved in the new developments in the student-dominated Northdale neighbourhood.

“[There are the] landlords who may not respond — as a good landlord should — to issues associated with your accommodations.”

While it may not be the worst form of accommodations, student living has been a topic of discussion for many developers, the surrounding universities, the city and the students themselves. Some students, however, many feel issues arise from their relationship with their landlord.

For fourth-year Laurier business student, Mike Megraw, that was exactly the case. While only subletting an apartment for the semester, Megraw rarely sees an active presence of his landlord — especially when help is needed.

“I don’t know the landlord as much but I do know he is very delayed in doing activities that should be done frequently,” explained Megraw.

“Like, we have a big issue with garbage in the apartments, it took him like a month to take out the garbage that accumulated over a long period of time.”

He added that at one point it had gotten so bad that the garbage room in his building was overflowing and that the stench of unbearable. As well, a semi-glass door in his apartment was broken, but wasn’t fixed for an extended period.

“It’s a safety concern because you’re getting glass everywhere and if you’re touching the wrong part you can accidently cut your hand,” he said.

This difficult experience with his landlord wasn’t particularly new to Megraw. When he was in second year, he and his roommates – where they had an agreement with their previous landlord that their rent would be monthly payments after the yearlong lease was done – were essentially forced out of his apartment and left to find a new place.

His new landlord wanted to bump up the rent $100 more. Once Megraw and his roommates refused, the landlord told them that his immediate family was moving in instead.

“But his immediate family didn’t move in because I ended up knowing the people who moved in after. Obviously, they weren’t his immediate family,” Megraw explained. “It makes you feel like you’re taken advantage of, basically. We’re students, we’re on our own for the first time, we don’t know all the legalities.”

In a more extreme case, a recent Laurier graduate, who asked to remain anonymous, rented an apartment on King Street last year. Her landlord, who lived in the side unit of the building, was a drug dealer.

“He was a drug dealer. I know this for sure, because when I moved in there were sketchy things going on,” the graduate explained. “I was only living there because it was cheap rent and I can’t afford to live in those expensive apartments.”

According to the graduate, the landlord was unresponsive, reluctant to do repairs, had people come to the building at inconvenient times of the day and even told the tenants to not call the cops to the property.

“When we first started off we did have a few issues with the landlords where they wouldn’t do things that we would recommend and they wouldn’t spend the money where it needed to be spent. We have gotten rid of many landlords because of this,” said Ho Tek, part owner at Domus Student Housing Inc, which manages properties for landlords that do not live in the city.

“We’ve had our own fair share of problems. We just let go of our property manager because we didn’t feel like he was getting to repairs in a timely fashion,” Tek added.

Many issues do arise with landlords if they are “absentee”, meaning that they do not live in the area where they rent a house or building. As a result, it makes it more difficult for them to do repairs or to aid their tenants unless they have the infrastructure to do so.

“I don’t think it’s a big a deal, but the landlords come all the way from Vancouver to all the way from Australia,” Tek continued, noting that Domus has their own maintenance person to address those specific repair issues. “In that case, it is very important to have someone here. If there’s an issue it can be dealt with right away.”

But McMurray – who feels the situation is getting slightly better – urges students to do their research and go over the lease with their parents to ensure they are more proactive if an issue arises. The Wilfrid Laurier University Students’ Union also offers 30 free minutes with a lawyer through their new Ceridian help line.

“Spend a little bit of time to understand what your obligations are and what your alternatives and options are,” McMurray said.

Megraw, however, wished there was a bit more resources in the community and at the universities to prepare him.

“It would be nice if there were a lot more readily available resources to help out with certain issues. What can we do in the instance where the landlord is threatening to kick us out?” he said.

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