Taking a chance on student housing in Waterloo Region

It’s no secret that the student housing market in Waterloo has reached the point of crisis. To those who are currently renting, this is nothing new.

In recent days, however, the “Fuccommod8u” scandal has done more than rock the boat. A recent data breach released over 6000 alleged maintenance complaints from within student property management company Accommod8u has capsized the corporate-dominated market.

As a result, students from WLU and UW are using social media as their life rafts.

Nine days ago, Reddit user u/Accommod8u posted links to public Google Drive files – notably, a report titled “FUCCOMMOD8U” – filled with pie charts, graphs and tables of information pertaining to alleged maintenance requests that had been submitted to Accommod8u for eight buildings, all of which were either previously or are currently under the company’s possession. An image they created that highlights some significant findings can be found at the bottom of this article.

Although the hacker’s taking of precautions, such as redacting sensitive information to protect the identities of Accommod8u tenants, may appear to soften the scandal’s blow, many students are disturbed by how easily their confidential information could be accessed.

In the report, the hacker(s) allege that the information was accessed through a tenant web portal online, which many property management companies (including Accommod8u) allow public access to through their sites so student tenants can, ironically, enter maintenance requests.

In the introduction to the report, the methods of the hacking process were not fully divulged, but it was mentioned that the website’s security was notably poor.

In sum, the report chronicles living issues separated into two main categories: the issue options Accommod8u’s website allows students to choose from, and ones that the hacker(s) use to organize the report. Accommod8u’s tenant portal accepted complaints under the following categories:  heating and cooling, electrical, plumbing, furniture and fixtures, doors and windows, paint, mold and flooring.

The leaked data is categorized by mold, heating, vermin and fire/carbon monoxide alarm issues – the latter two of which cannot be formally submitted to Accommod8u due to the layout of their complaint form.

As of now, anyone can access this information by the links posted throughout the Reddit thread. It’s important to note the big picture numbers, however, in order to emphasize the severity of the issue.

Since Dec. 2017, over 6000 requests were recorded through the Accommod8u tenant portal. On average, maintenance requests took 13 days to be resolved (according to the corporation’s standards). The report alleges that 30 per cent of complaints took over two weeks to resolve. 14 per cent of cases took one month or more to resolve.

The leak also provides a breakdown of complaints by category on a per-building basis: 130 Columbia St. West, the location of Accommod8u’s leasing office, tops the charts for total complaints filed. 258A Sunview St. is a close second.

365 Albert St. had the highest mold and heating/cooling complaints. 130 Columbia St. West was recorded as having the highest amount of issues with fire and CO alarms. 246 Albert St. lead the pack for vermin complaints.

Surely this information is not a surprise to students, as we are the most familiar with legal abuses our housing inevitably entails; but “FUCCOMMOD8U” is the first case in which students have taken to illegal means in order to make these realities statistically and publicly available.

According to coverage from Waterloo Region Record, Accommod8u confirmed last week that there was unauthorized use of their computer systems, which resulted in the leak. The Cord reached out to Accommod8u  and its parent company Prica Global Enterprises to confirm this, but neither responded to our request for comment. 

Under the Criminal Code of Canada, unauthorized use of a computer or computer system can be processed as either a summary or indictable offence. This means that if authorities identify the person(s) responsible, they may serve a sentence of up to 10 years — potentially in federal prison, too.

Since Dec. 2017, over 6000 requests were recorded through the Accommod8u tenant portal. On average, maintenance requests took 13 days to be resolved (according to the corporation standards). The report alleges that 30 per cent of complaints took over two weeks to resolve. 14 per cent of cases took one month or more to resolve.

The motive behind the leak doesn’t appear to be malicious towards students, and did not express any ill will towards Accommod8u tenants, despite their data being illegally accessed. In fact, the report encourages students to mobilize in order to better understand and advocate for their rights as tenants.

Exposure of this issue lead to a storm of social media posts where students of both local universities as well as Conestoga College began to share their student housing horror stories.

One of those people was fourth-year UW student Sylvia Skoruch, whose post in the “Student Housing in Waterloo” Facebook group went viral overnight.

Skoruch alleges in her initial post that property management company KW4Rent, also owned by Prica Global Enterprises, illegally coerced her into rescinding a lease she was meant to start in September only weeks before she was to move in.

The Cord reached out to KW4Rent via email to clarify their policy on the rescinding of leases at the option of the corporation, but did not receive a comment.

Skoruch explained that she was told by a KW4Rent employee in late August that, due to “safety concerns,” her unit would need significant renovations and she would no longer be able to take possession of it on the date specified in her lease.

“What was also weird was that [KW4Rent] didn’t want to give us back our cheque,” Skoruch said.

“Everything was already paid, and they said they said they could give it back in three weeks … If it wasn’t for my mom making a scene, we would have had to wait.”

This was a detriment to her then-frantic search for new accommodations, as she needed the money to be able to secure a deposit on a new apartment so she could have somewhere to live for the school year.

“When I called them [to ask about other properties], I found out that the penthouse was rented out to someone else,” Skoruch said.

She stated that during the process of inquiring about other potential units for rent, the agent she spoke to told her that if she wanted the property, she shouldn’t have cancelled the lease. Skoruch claims that she was pressured into rescinding it, as KW4Rent gave her no further options.

Skoruch was unable to find accommodation in Waterloo on short notice that was dog friendly, and she currently commutes to classes daily from her parents’ home in Mississauga. She leaves every day before 6 a.m. to make her 8:30 classes, and when she misses the last bus home she stays overnight in the UW campus student lounge.

After she posted her story on Facebook, Skoruch said KW4Rent called her and asked her to take it down. She refused, and as her story continued to go viral, she learned she wasn’t alone.

Skoruch has created a new Facebook group, “STUDENT HOUSING CRISIS IN WATERLOO,” so that students can exchange stories and help make students more aware of their rights as tenants.

In addition to the creation of this group, a student housing rally has been planned for next Monday at Waterloo City Hall. Details for this can also be found on Facebook.

To advance the cause, Skoruch has spoken out to off-campus media outlets, as well as local politicians. She is currently in talks with the office of MPP Catherine Fife to create a petition for better student housing regulations. The petition will be put forth when the legislature is back in session after the upcoming federal election.

Thanks to the FUCCOMMOD8U report and Skoruch’s activism, we’ve got the attention of TV, radio and local politicians – and that’s great: but what next? Although making students more aware of their tenant rights is a good first step, sometimes it’s not enough. As first-time renters and young people, we’re often taken advantage of by corporations and independent landlords alike.

Laurier has a number of resources available to its students that help them become better acquainted with their tenant rights, but most Golden Hawks are unaware of them. To get the lowdown, I spoke with Skye Nip, assistant vice president of university affairs for Laurier’s Waterloo Campus.

The Student Rights Advisory Committee (SRAC), under the oversight of the WLU Students’ Union, provides a number of resources to students who rent. The SRAC connects students to municipal bylaw guidelines and provides information on how to check if the student property they live in is licensed with the city. It can also provide connections and referrals to Waterloo Region Community Legal Services.

Currently, a major issue that the SRAC and Students’ Union is working on is extending the residential rental licensing bylaw to high-rise buildings. The existing bylaw only covers houses and low-rise units, which excludes many students from the protection of tenant-focused municipal bylaws.

“Housing keeps going up, and we have that density in apartments,” Nip said. “We really want it to apply there as well.”

Nip also explained that this is a plan that she will be working on through the SRAC in tandem with the Students’ Union Outreach Committee in preparation for local advocacy week, where university affairs are discussed with local politicians. This is set to take place in January.

It is important to note that in many cases of student housing issues, knowing your rights may simply not be enough. As shown through this past week’s events, students taken advantage of in Waterloo’s housing market have no problem speaking their mind.

Hopefully this type of perceptive and peaceful advocacy can continue. It must if true and lasting change is to be brought to the current market. As high rises continue to be built and universities continue to accept increasing numbers of students, what can we do?

Well, for starters, we can raise a little hell. Know your rights, students – but fight for them, too.

By Reddit user r/Accommod8u [edited]

*The Cord attempted to reach out to Accommod8u, KW4Rent and Prica Global Enterprises for comment on the breach. As of the time of publication, none were available for comment.*

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