Students take action against developer

Photo by Heather Davidson

Photo by Heather Davidson

Students who were unable to move into their 1 Columbia Street apartments on Sept. 4 are taking legal action against building developer Schembri Property Management.

The student tenants of the building, with help from Waterloo Public Interest Research Group, have filed a claim with the Landlord and Tenant Board against Schembri.

The claim, filed approximately a month ago, is seeking nearly $100,000 for a group of 53 students to remedy unreturned deposits and other costs associated with being displaced when their building was not ready for occupancy at the beginning of September.

WPIRG initially reached out to the students at 1 Columbia when the issues first arose in September. They offered advice and education for the students about their rights as tenants and attempted to form a tenant association to give the students more bargaining power. These events led to further developments, which included campaigns to make the issues public.

“Part of the campaign has always been going to the tenant board, but also bringing public attention to Schembri,” said Alex Diceanu, outreach and research centre coordinator at WPIRG. “We’re letting Schembri know that besides the tenant board, if they don’t change the way they’re treating students, students will continue to become more informed.”

The claim against Schembri is much more complex than just seeking damages for unreturned deposits. The claim also seeks damages for the students having to endure additional costs related to not being able to move into their apartments. These costs include buying food multiple times per day in the absence of kitchen access and buying bus passes to travel to and from the hotels they were placed in.

“We’re making the argument that Schembri has interfered with the tenant’s right to exercise their rights under the residential tenancies act, which is technically considered a form of harassment,” said Diceanu. “They had students sign move-in forms to get their key, which said that by signing they are satisfied with compensation so far. We would argue that’s a form of harassment, in terms of interfering with rights.”

WPIRG and the students they’re representing will have their first meeting with the Landlord and Tenant Board, called a pre-hearing conference, on Nov. 28. The board will mediate between the group and Schembri. The tenants are optimistic they will succeed through the board.

“We have heard back from one student who went on her own to the tenant board, and the tenant board ruled in her favour, and ordered Schembri to return all of her deposits and release her from her lease by Nov. 10,” said Diceanu. “We’re asking basically the exact same thing and our students are in the exact same situation. I’m not sure if legally this is a precedent, but it bodes well for our case.”

Many students have since moved into the 1 Columbia property, opting to keep their lease and not seek further compensation. One point of contention, as previously mentioned, was the waiver that tenants had to sign to get their key.

“We had to sign a form that said we were satisfied with all the compensation given to this point,” said Dylan Bannister, a student tenant of 1 Columbia currently living at the property.

“I heard about one guy who absolutely refused to sign it and made a big scene about it. Apparently they had to get security to have him leave.”

Current tenants also face ongoing construction, which can be a challenge for some. Tenants have complained that ongoing construction is being done quickly, and that features that should have been set up, are not.

“Nothing is really set up, everything is a rushed job. Even the parking garage is not even close to being done, so we have to park elsewhere,” said Bannister.

Schembri was contacted to give comment, but did not reply to interview requests.

“I’m in my fourth year, so I’m not looking for anywhere to live [next year], but even if I was I wouldn’t re-sign here,” said Bannister.

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