The Student Housing Crisis

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Posted on: October 10, 2019

As the leaves begin to fall and the students begin flocking back to their universities, the tirades renew themselves once more. Grumblings, usually well substantiated, over student housing have began rumbling again. You don’t have to listen too closely to hear the story of cancelled leases, unresponsive landlords, questionable non-disclosure agreements and sky-high key deposits. As the year goes by, the cycles of tedious student housing begin anew.

This year has been no exception to this rule. However, the cries seem to be ringing a little longer, the shouts a little louder and those in charge are listening a little harder. What set this year apart was the data leak from Accommod8u, a local luxury rental company targeted mainly at students and young professionals. Due to a security flaw within the complaints management system, the hacker(s), whose identity/identities is/are currently unknown, were able to reveal the details of thousands of complaints made to the company over the course of a year and a half, while redacting personal information. They provided a detailed analysis of their data, and posted it to University of Waterloo Reddit page, where it quickly went viral.

Over 4000 complaints were logged from December 2017 to August 2019, in only 1294 rental units. It took more than almost 2 weeks to complete most maintenance requests, sometimes almost a half year. Though complaints are the usual system used to notify the landlord that something needs fixing in this scenario, some of them proved to be repeated complaints. Many renters fielded multiple complaints about issues ranging from heating to carbon monoxide detectors to cockroach infestations. Even after several complaints, some problems persisted.

In cases where the renter feels their landlord is being exploitative, they need to take their case to the Ontario Tenant Board. However, this can be a long, drawn out, and time-consuming process. Given the short-term nature of student housing, accentuated by the fact that many students are only at the University for 4 month intervals due to co-op, many feel it simply isn’t worth it to “fight the power”.

This all comes on the heels of Facebook post by 4th year student Sylvia Skoruch, venting frustration after a rental company forced her to terminate her lease, saying that maintenance was required, only for her to discover different tenants in that same apartment. Her situation received a significant amount of attention from the local media when she brought up her frustrations at a WUSA meeting. WUSA responded by highlighting the legal advice they have for students facing landlord negligence. All this culminated in a march on city hall, whose posters still adorn the walls of campus, where many students aired the frustrations.

In recent years, Waterloo students faced another issue: housing scarcity. There is insufficient housing to match the growing student population of the two universities in Waterloo. Restrictive zoning laws discouraged the construction of new high-density apartment-style living that is best suited for students. However, with enough pressure, the city relaxed some of these zoning laws. Towers began to spring up, and some predict that there is even an oversupply of student housing. When students let their voices be heard, people will respond.

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