When a student chooses to pursue postsecondary education, there are multiple decisions that they must make. At the forefront, considerations include field of study, costs of tuition and living expenses in each municipality, and, for many, living away from home for the first time. Many students feel the pressure of learning to cook for themselves, staying on top of laundry and cleaning, and scheduling doctors’ appointments when needed. Very rarely is the topic of housing predicted to be a source of stress.
Yet for many students, be it prior to starting their first year of postsecondary education or after having completed one or more years of their studies while living in university residences, finding suitable living accommodations with just leases and landlords is a constant concern. While countless rental units available and leased to students lack quality standards, others are charged a premium for living conditions that are expected as the norm for non-student tenants.
This practice further perpetuates the notion that poor quality and unaffordable housing is part of the student experience. It becomes a struggle that is shared by this demographic of the rental population, but this solidarity is not something to be proud of. Students need to be able to focus on their studies and their future at a time that is already a stressful period of transition in their life, and poor living conditions do nothing but hinder student health and wellness.
To add to the stress caused by the unavailability of reasonable housing, students are often targeted by landlords through predatory and prejudiced leasing practices. From being unaware of their rights and largely inexperienced with signing rental agreements, students are vulnerable to the unethical behaviours used to maximize financial gain of property owners. This includes illegally prohibiting the subletting of rental units, often used by students as a means to recoup the costs of housing during the summer months when they choose to move away from the municipality of their postsecondary institution, to unannounced monthly cleanliness inspections.
Often, landlords will pressure prospective student tenants to commit to their property without having read or understood the full agreement. My housemates and I experienced this first-hand as we visited multiple potential houses in the fall in an effort to secure one of the few reasonable rental units available for the following academic year. During the touring of one housing option in the early afternoon, we were constantly reminded of the popularity of the property, and somehow found ourselves at a table with the landlord three hours later, a copy of the still unsigned lease in front of us. At the urging of upper-year friends, we ultimately chose to walk away, but not all students are fortunate enough to have the guidance that we did.
Although their rental agreement has not yet officially started, I have heard from many of my peers who are already concerned about their lease and landlord. Due to being uneducated about their rights as tenants, they feel powerless to the property owners that knowingly employ questionable tactics in order to benefit themselves.
This is why I believe it is so important that the provincial government work with Ontario municipalities to educate students about their rights and responsibilities, and why I fully support this recommendation in OUSA’s recent Housing, Transit, & Community Development policy paper. Few students know that legislation exists that are supposed to protect them, and even fewer have heard of the Landlord Tenant Board of Ontario or the Rental Housing Enforcement Unit should they want to file a complaint.
We need to ensure that students have a safe and healthy place to live and study as they pursue their education. To do this, the provincial government, municipalities, and student associations need to work together to provide information and education that is accessible and understandable to all students.