Waterloo hosts information session on student tenancy rights

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Graphic by Jaime Mere

On Nov. 12 the University of Waterloo hosted a student tenancy rights information night with the goal of equipping students with the tools they need to navigate the often treacherous student housing market.

The event was open to students of all institutions and was held in the Engineering 7 building on the University of Waterloo campus from 6 to 8 p.m.

There were several different speakers present including MPP Catherine Fife, City of Waterloo Ward 6 Councillor Jeff Henry and Giordano Modesto from Waterloo Region Community Legal Services.

The event included a one hour presentation devoted to going over the rights and obligations of tenants, followed by a brief presentation of the Student Legal Protection Program that was recently introduced by the University of Waterloo and Conestoga students associations.

After the presentations, attendees were free to participate in an open house session where they had the opportunity to interact with local community partners including members of municipal enforcement services, community legal services, Laurier’s student rights group, city councillors and more.

The event was planned and orchestrated by the Waterloo Undergraduate Student Association in conjunction with Laurier Students’ Union, Conestoga Students Inc., MPP Catherine Fife and Student housing activist Sylvia Skoruch.

The idea for the event was fueled by WUSA President, Michael Beauchemin, after hearing about and witnessing the often negative experience that students have when dealing with student housing.

“As a member of the student housing group for Waterloo, I sometimes get a front-row seat to what plays out,” Beauchemin said in an email statement.

“I decided it would be a good time to run an event for increasing student awareness and hopefully provide students with the information and the tools they need to know and exercise their rights.”

Students are a particularly vulnerable population when it comes to renting because the majority them are first time renters without the experience or legal knowledge to defend themselves.

“Students are almost 100 per cent first-time renters, and many people don’t get exposure to that world in their family life at home. There are lots of things you have to watch out for, and time and again companies have taken advantage of inexperience,” Beauchemin said.

“Students need to find housing to continue their studies. There’s a huge power imbalance and a student who is homeless is going to suffer academically, which impacts their ability to do part time work, look for co-op jobs, or even strive for post-graduate jobs or a master’s.”

Students are almost 100 per cent first-time renters, and many people don’t get exposure to that world in their family life at home. There are lots of things you have to watch out for, and time and again companies have taken advantage of inexperience.

– Michael Beauchemin, president of Waterloo Undergraduate Student Association

Researching tenant and landlord rights can be difficult and time consuming, especially for the already busy student.

Hosting a student tenancy information night takes some of the weight off of students and gives them the opportunity to make themselves aware of their rights, which will make them significantly less vulnerable to being taken advantage of by their landlords or suffering because of lack of information.

“If students don’t know their rights, they’ll let themselves be walked all over by landlords and property managers. Even armed with this information it can be difficult sometimes, but with anyone able to put up an ad on Kijiji for ‘student housing’, you sometimes run across things that are definitely not allowed,” said Beauchemin. “It’s also important for students to know their obligations as tenants which cannot be stressed enough. If a person isn’t meeting their obligations, it’s harder for them to argue for their rights.”

While it is clear that students in the Waterloo Region are experiencing significant difficulties with the student housing market, this is not a Waterloo-exclusive problem. Students across North America are experiencing similar issues with housing while at university or college.

“Student housing is an issue that has gone largely unnoticed by politicians and people in positions of power because everywhere, people think it’s a localized issue. I’ve read articles from across North America, where university neighbourhoods are being bought up by developers to throw up mid-rises and high-rises of luxury student housing. It’s a far cry from student ghettos, but it means that the price of rent is driven way up, and these developers and property managers don’t have to worry about filling beds because they know that students need housing.”

Not only are students forced into paying high rental prices, they often must settle for sub-par living conditions because they have no other choice but to settle for what is available in their area and most student rental options only offer fixed-term leases, which means students are locked in once they sign on.

“[Landlords and property management companies] don’t have to worry about keeping good living conditions like an experienced renter would expect because students are inexperienced and are willing to settle if it means they have someplace to sleep while they attend university. If a student is studying at a university or a college, they need housing,” said Beauchemin.

While at the moment, the student tenancy information night is a one-time event, Beauchemin is speculating on the idea of running a similar event annually.

“The way we have organized this event as a partnership with other schools and with MPP Fife is probably a one-time deal. However, I really like the idea of running the event annually around this time, especially with a focus on students living in residence because people start to look for housing for their second year right about November to January,” Beauchemin said.

For students, knowledge is the best defense against the many challenges that come with renting in a student-oriented market. Knowing the rights and obligations of a tenant will give students a leg to stand on when dealing with people who seek to capitalize on their inexperience.

“Students are vulnerable everywhere and we are taking steps to ensure our students go in with their eyes wide open.”

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