Housing Market Crisis: Student Pushback

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Sabrina Guillen
Tue, 09/17/2019 - 13:00

If you attended any Welcome Week events or follow us on social, you might have been surprised to see sponsorship from Prica Global Enterprises, a property management company now renowned for a recent data breach. Here's why you saw that...

Prica Global Enterprises (the parent company of Accommod8u and KW4Rent) was a one-time sponsor for the Welcome Week events. Without knowing the impact of the Student Choice Initiative on our funding this coming fall and wanting to provide students with the same caliber of events offered in years past, we reached out to several organizations for external sponsorship. The contract with Prica was signed early into the spring term, far in advance of the data breach.  

So, what’s this breach all about? Many of the Region's property management companies are infamous to Waterloo students. Whether it be slow response times to inquiries, building constructions that are behind schedule (delaying student move-ins) or landlords being reticent with key deposits, students are frustrated.

For the last several years, it’s become somewhat of an annual tradition to see the newest over-promised and under-delivered building not ready on move-in day. In 2017, students were unable to move in to TheHub housing complex until weeks into their term and the availability of a gym facility was falsely advertised. KW4Rent, on the other hand, has found most of its complaints through the /r/uwaterloo [external link] subreddit, where dozens of students advise their peers to avoid these companies if they can. 

Students in the past have been largely unable to protect themselves from Waterloo housing companies. The scale of issues with landlords have also been difficult to track. That all changed last week. 

Legal Protection Service boot at Carnival

On September 8, 2019, a Reddit user posted on the UWaterloo subreddit sharing the news of a data leak [external link] of unprecedented size that laid bare the last two years of Accommod8u maintenance requests. There were over 6,000 requests in the report, with sensitive and identifying information largely redacted. These requests expose the action (or inaction) of Accommod8u and the conditions within their buildings. 

The findings are concerning. Over 1000 alleged complaints expose Accommod8u as potentially having broken provincial housing laws and property standards required by the city. More than half took over two weeks to be resolved, with the longest response time at over six months. Such a delay in action is distressing when the issues present considerable health or safety risks.

Some complaints read like a horror story, and are eerily similar to many allegations from students across the KW housing industry for the last number of years: mold growing above beds, broken windows letting in the winter cold, missing smoke and carbon monoxide detectors, students waking up covered in bites; the list continues. The report, published by the group responsible for the data breach, strongly recommends tenants seek legal action as many of the requests violate laws governing the minimum standards for rental properties and municipal bylaws on property standards. 

Taking action: our next steps 

As your advocates both on and off campus, WUSA will continue to take an active role in supporting our students. “We will be looking through the data in more detail," VP Education Matthew Gerrits assures, "we encourage students to remain vigilant when looking at housing options and to access our legal assistance helpline, if they believe they've been mistreated under the law."

"We encourage students to remain vigilant when looking at housing options and to access our legal assistance helpline, if they believe they've been mistreated under the law."

The Students’ Council considered the crisis of student housing in the KW area this past Sunday, giving student-tenants the opportunity (and platform) to share their stories. The result? The establishment of a committee on Student Housing in Kitchener-Waterloo to be made up of students both interested and affected. If that’s you, please reach out to your VP Education, Matthew Gerrits at vped@wusa.ca

In addition to a long-term solution, Council asked that Matthew and the committee investigate the prospect of funding and implementing emergency student housing to ensure no student is left homeless. Your WUSA Exec are also preparing a report on student housing in KW that will be shared on November 3 – that month’s Students’ Council meeting. 

As part of this process, we are in touch with the Vice President of University Affairs with Wilfred Laurier University Students’ Union to propose joint advocacy on student tenancy and municipal bylaws for property safety standards and their enforcement. We will be proposing the same to Conestoga Students Inc. 

We are in the process of discussion with experts in municipal bylaw enforcement and tenancy law to investigate whether it’s possible to organize, or assist in the organization of, a class action lawsuit for affected student-tenants. While this conversation is ongoing, it should be noted the Landlord and Tenant Board has exclusive jurisdiction over residential tenancy matters, including whether the matter can be brought before the courts. 

Motivated by this data breach, we are currently reviewing our sponsorship practices to set new corporate policy standards and acceptance criteria, ensuring those with whom we do business uphold high ethical standards of practice. 

Your next steps… 

"We’ve heard your complaints about predatory landlords and want to help reshape the housing environment for current and future students”

New this term, we introduced the Student Legal Protection Program. "We’ve heard your complaints about predatory landlords and want to help reshape the housing environment for current and future students” says VP Operations & Finance, Seneca Velling, “…the program offers a toll-free helpline and legal representation on issues relating to housing and tenancy, including legal counsel at the Landlord and Tenant Board.”  The program is available to those who remained opted into the Legal Protection service under WUSA’s optional administered funds on Quest. Unfortunately, students who opted out of the service at the beginning of the policy year won’t have the opportunity to opt back in until the next. For this year’s students, that means September 2020. 

What to do if you’re affected: If landlords are unresponsive to reasonable attempts at dialogue, we suggest that you document what feels unfair or illegal about the situation and make use of our legal service hotline. We also encourage you to contact and file complaints with the following resources: 

  • Speak with a lawyer from WUSA’s Legal Protection Service  
    1-833-202-4571 | studentcare.ca [external link] 

  • Contact the City of Waterloo’s Municipal Enforcement Services [external link] 
    519-747-8785 | TTY: 1-866-786-3941 | municipalenforcement@waterloo.ca 
    Doug Bray  
    MLEO, Compliance & Standards  
    C: 226.339.6981  | TTY: 1.866.786.3941   

  • File a complaint [external link] with the Rental Housing Enforcement Unit (RHEU) 

  • File a tenant complaint [external link] with UW off-campus housing
    och@uwaterloo.ca | 519-888-4567 ext. 35725 
    SLC 0134, Monday to Friday 8:30 a.m.-4:30p.m.

Where can I find more information? 

How can I get more involved? 

One big way you can get more involved with this or any issue facing students is to run for election to the Students’ Council or participate in committees. There’s a by-election for AHS, Engineering, and Environment seats with nominations opening on September 23. The General Election for the 2020-2021 governing year has nominations opening for all Council seats on October 23! 

Keep an eye out for the Fall General Meeting, coming up on October 22. This meeting is like a town hall for all undergraduate students to join and make decisions that guide WUSA. Town halls are a great opportunity to interact with your representatives in an open and honest way and get direct answers to the questions you raise and the issues that matter to you.