Putting the Residential Tenancies Act in Review

Every fall, thousands of students arrive in university towns and get ready to move into new apartments. However, during the past few years, some students have been encountering a costly, frustrating situation – their apartments are still under construction.

Each year, rental companies are promising beautiful housing close to campus with luxurious amenities and a number of them will fail to deliver this to students. When move in dates are pushed back, students are left scrambling to find somewhere to live at the last minute. The ones who opt to live in the accommodations provided by the rental company often find they are not located close to campus or are inadequate.

These rental companies see students as a vulnerable population who need housing, are living on their own for the first time, and have limited knowledge of the law and their rights as tenants. These companies make students feel silly for even asking about construction delays and reassure them that their apartments will be ready on time. Unfortunately, students learn that it all really is too good to be true, and are left without a home.

Students who encounter this situation face stress and anxiety, which could lead to struggles with their academics. At a time when students should be worrying about school, they are instead forced to worry about having a roof over their heads. The stress is even worse for those moving from other countries or provinces. These students find themselves in a strange place with a limited support network and resources, and they have even less knowledge about local laws and services.

The matter is made worse by poor communication from rental companies. They often wait until the last minute to inform students that their apartments will not be ready. These companies fail to communicate with students about the details of their situation and what options are being made available to them. Rental companies frequently provide new move-in dates that are changed multiple times as they rush to get tenants in units as quickly as possible. There are consistent lies, and the spread of misinformation and confusion as students struggle to understand their situation.

The rush to finish apartments also brings into question the quality and safety of these buildings. While some students face scuffs and marks on walls and countertops, others find broken appliances, no hot water, and construction fumes that are making them ill. While they are paying for amenities, and fully furnished units, they are living in a construction zone with no amenities and construction workers coming and going from their apartments.

As the Vice President, Education for the University of Waterloo Federation of Students it is my responsibility to advocate on behalf of undergraduates, and it’s time to take further action on this issue. I also understand this situation firsthand because I’m living it. The building I moved into this fall was not ready on time. Like many others, I was left scrambling to find a place to stay and now that I am moved in, I find myself in the middle of a construction zone.

Students are forced to look to the Landlord and Tenant Board for justice. Unfortunately, as the Residential Tenancies Act currently stands, there are few protections for tenants before they move into their home. Also, the Landlord and Tenant Board doesn’t adequately enforce the laws that do exist to protect tenants from mistreatment, such as laws outlining what can and cannot be put into a lease. This continues to happen each year and little has been done to stop it.

It is time for the provincial government to take action to prevent students from being lied to and taken advantage off.

With the support of MPP Catherine Fife, the City of Waterloo, and thousands of students, I am asking the provincial Minister of Housing, Honorable Chris Ballard, to review and amend the Residential Tenancies Act. We are asking that they create laws that protect students before they move into new homes. We would also like to see minimum standards for communication to tenants whose apartments are not ready, and better enforcement of current laws from the Landlord and Tenant Board. This a critical matter for students across Ontario, we cannot let this continue to be something we talk about each fall and yet allow to happen year after year.

Students deserve housing that is safe, affordable, and accessible, and they should not settle for anything less.