Living conditions are appalling in low-cost student housing

The conditions under which students are living are appalling: mouldy basements and bathrooms, faulty heating, leaky roofs and flaky landlords are frequent problems.

The universities, the Region of Waterloo and landlords are all scrambling to come up with excuses for why this is the case. They pass the buck and refuse to take responsibility.

Some landlords charge $500 plus a month per person without utilities. This huge cost gives the students four walls, a kitchen with a dishwasher that barely works and a house with an inability to hold heat. We, as students, are being taken advantage of, simply because we don’t know “the system” or are too financially strapped to choose somewhere else.

Take the recent coverage in the Record as an example: students were left to find a new place to live after their house was flooded from a burst pipe over the break. With the loss of personal belongings, as well as a place to live, a parent fortunately was able to step in to foot the hotel bill. The article also mentions how many problem houses are not being reported and that the city can’t do anything unless more students come forward. I’m pretty sure a lot of us fall into that boat.
I know I can say the same for myself. Last year I was living in a house on Ezra which had a mouldy and frigid basement.

It was unusable to us. Even though we complained to the landlord frequently for months, they simply removed our basement windows, boarded them up and filled them with concrete.

The mouldy drywall remained, along with the heating issues of the house. My bedroom, on the main floor, rarely reached 18 degrees: a Snuggie would have been very useful.

The problem is that students are unknowingly complying with landlords who infringe the Residential Tenancies Act. What’s worse is when these landlords know the Act and can manoeuvre their way around it, doing the bare minimum for maintenance when students complain about it. Not acquiring a permit or consulting plumbers or electricians is one method, doing a cover-up job being another.

And worst off are those students who put up with no heat or hot water in the middle of winter because certain landlords pay their own bills before those of the students. Hot water is not a luxury item, it’s a vital service under the RTA; landlords are required to provide it.

I’ve gone without hot water three times in a month: showering at a friend’s is certainly very inconvenient.

But it’s pretty difficult for the city to do anything about these instances when students aren’t reporting them. Complaining about the issue to your friends won’t get your landlord to fix it, especially if you’re spending more time elsewhere because of a problem. When your landlord is generally a good guy, or you feel like you have no voice against a major corporation, it’s difficult to get up the courage to call the city and complain about what seems like a temporary or avoidable issue. Start reporting problems such as mould or heating issues directly to your landlord as soon as they happen and if they are not fixed in due time, then call the Waterloo Region By-Law office.

Taking responsibility for the complete failure that is student housing in Waterloo is something that has to happen and fast. I’m tired of hearing the same old story about Northdale. Even when I lived on Ezra it was the same situation.

The city and universities seem to be making it our fault, as though we somehow deserve these living conditions, so the fallout comes back on us: the students. No one at Laurier or the University of Waterloo deserves to live in a house with mould or other health risks.

It’s pretty sad when the basic needs of humans are not being met and the blame is being shifted back and forth between parties. We are the hot potato of terrible living situations; nobody wants to hold onto it long enough to fix it. We’re stuck with problems ranging from peeling paint, to full out flooding; nobody is taking responsibility and parents are being stuck with the bill. The nightmare will continue until someone, namely us, steps up and resolves what is actually going on: students being treated as dirty, destructive toddlers who have no say against their dreadful living situations.