Knowing your rights with landlords

As first-time renters, many students who encounter problems don’t know their rights as tenants

Graphic by Lena Yang
Graphic by Lena Yang

With the majority of students being first-time renters, the process of finding a habitable place to live with an honest lease can be difficult and confusing. As a result, many students experience some sort of problem with their landlord over the course of their tenancy.
Valerie Chong, a fourth-year business student at Wilfrid Laurier University, is less than impressed with the quality of her experience with Schembri Property Management, a company she has been renting from since second year.

Schembri hasn’t been necessarily violating the Residential Tenancies Act, but Chong feels they have been disrespectful in their interactions with her and her roommates. For one, according to the RTA, landlords need to provide tenants with a notice of entry at least 24 hours prior, which Schembri has complied to. However, they have repeatedly slipped notices under Chong’s door stating they require access to the apartment Tuesday to Monday from 10:00 a.m. to 7:00 p.m.

“Once I asked [them to give more specific times] they did it for a couple times, but then they completely ignored my requests,” Chong said. “Their excuse was because they were desperately trying to fill the room and they claimed they had walk-ins so they couldn’t give us more specific times. But I think that’s a huge lack of respect.”

They have one empty room in their apartment, but Chong said Schembri doesn’t bring in people for tours often enough to warrant the blanket notices.

“My roommate and I are especially annoyed because we’ve lived there since second year and we’re fourth year now and they never seem to want to talk to us. It’s always just notes under the door.”

In another instance, they had a flood in their apartment and were unable to get in contact with anyone from Schembri. After water had seeped into the apartment below them, they were able to get in touch with an employee who expressed that he was too busy to deal with their issue. Eventually, maintenance arrived to help.

“I asked him for his direct number because he was easier to reach than the guy who was supposed to be working for us.”

Back when she was looking for a place to live, Chong said she chose Schembri because it was a larger company.

“I thought if it was a company they would have standards, hopefully, that were above what just an ordinary landlord would have,” she explained.

If she could go back, she said, she wouldn’t go with Schembri.

The Off-Campus Housing office at the University of Waterloo caters to student needs as they look for rental options and experience off-campus housing. They provide tools for finding listings, review leases and give advice when issues with landlords arise.

Olivia Choi, an assistant at the office, said that when students come to her with problems with their tenancy she first encourages them to communicate with their landlord.

“90 per cent of the time, its miscommunication or lack of communication,” she explained.

She also provides information to students about things landlords shouldn’t be asking for.

“Things like a security deposit to hold your place, or I’ve even seen landlords who are charging students to just see the lease before they sign it and then damage deposits — those are illegal,” she said.

Often, students also don’t know that landlords can’t demand payment by a particular method, such as post-dated cheques. Under the RTA, tenants have the right to pay however they wish.

In terms of how tenants can mitigate problems with their landlords, Choi said this comes down to getting to know your landlord beforehand.

“I think that’s something that should be really sought after before you even sign your lease agreement,” she said. “I always encourage students to make sure there is some sort of contact information on their lease agreement — and it’s not common that you actually find that.”

Choi didn’t feel that private landlords are necessarily better than larger property management companies. It depends on what the student is looking for in a tenancy. The main difference is in communication.

“I’ve come to the realization that private tenants do tend to have more direct communication with their landlords and more often and they’re able to get a hold of them pretty quickly,” she said. “Whereas with property management companies it takes a couple days to get through to the right person.”

She doesn’t believe that landlords in Waterloo necessarily take advantage of students; sometimes, she said, the problem is that the landlords themselves might not know the details of their responsibilities.

“That’s why I think it’s really important that students know what their rights are and get informed with those, get educated.”

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