Kitchener-Waterloo·CBC Explains

What the Accomod8u data leak shows about student housing

Leaked data from the popular rental company Accommod8u is giving students a springboard for conversation about problems with accommodation. What's it all about?

Data leaked on Reddit reveals tenants' problems with mould, vermin, heating

Earlier this month, an anonymous Reddit user wrote a post titled: "Massive Data Leak of Accommod8u Maintenance Requests Over the Last Two Years." In a public Google document, the author said they managed to log into Accommod8u's online tenant portal and access two years worth of maintenance requests. (Reddit)

Leaked information from the popular student rental company Accommod8u appears to paint a picture of apartments plagued with vermin, mould and broken heating systems.

But some say the problem with student housing in Waterloo goes beyond just one company.

Here's the background you need to understand the data hack, what it says about student housing, and what's being done about it.

What was the leak?

Earlier this month, an anonymous Reddit user wrote a post titled: "Massive Data Leak of Accommod8u Maintenance Requests Over the Last Two Years."

In a public Google document, the author said they managed to log into Accommod8u's online tenant portal and access two years worth of maintenance requests.

"A close look at the 6000+ entries reveals an egregious disregard for the rights and wellbeing of the residents," the user wrote in the post.

The report describes requests from tenants for help dealing with mold, vermin, carbon monoxide and fire alarm issues and faulty heating systems. It also criticizes Accommod8u's response time, alleging that users often put in multiple requests for help that were ignored.  

Who is involved?

The company

On its website, Accommod8u describes itself as a high-end apartment brand with eight high-rise buildings under its ownership. The web copy says each rental suite is clean, secure and "maintained to the highest standard."

The company has been criticized before, after tenants had their move-in dates at an Accommod8u property delayed for weeks because construction wasn't finished. Once the building was occupied, tenants said they still encountered problems with air conditioning, garbage chutes and laundry machines.

CBC has reached out to Accommod8u for comment and has not yet heard back. 

The company has been criticized before, after tenants had their move-in dates at an Accommod8u property delayed for weeks because construction wasn't finished. (Submitted by Brooke Willis)

The hacker

In a Google document titled "Contact Information," the person or people behind the hack said they will not reveal their identity, or whether one or multiple people were involved. CBC has not spoken to those responsible for the data breach. 

The police

The Waterloo Regional Police Service has confirmed that they are investigating the hack, but have not said whether any charges are pending.

What the leak shows

Student Colin Chu says many of his fellow students are unaware of what their rights are. (Paula Duhatschek/CBC)

Students at the University of Waterloo say the hack shows what many of them knew already: that students are easily taken advantage of, and often don't know what recourse they have when that happens.

Colin Chu was one of about 20 students who joined a meeting of the Waterloo Undergraduate Students' Association Sunday, where the Accommod8U hack was on the agenda.

He said poor maintenance — along with disputed leases and other problems — is an ongoing problem at many of the rental companies that target students in Waterloo.

"Especially a lot of international students that are coming into the region for the first time and don't have a really good handle on renting procedures or ways that they can be scammed or misled," said Chu.

Chu said many students don't know what their rights are, or that agencies like the Landlord and Tenant Board exist, and hopes they'll become more active in learning about possible scams and ways to get help.

What officials are saying

Shayne Turner is with the City of Waterloo and says municipal enforcement services can investigate unresolved maintenance problems, but says they have to be invited in by a tenant. (Paula Duhatschek/CBC)

Tenille Bonoguore, who represents much of the university area as a city councillor for uptown Waterloo, called the contents of the Accomod8u report "disturbing."

"The kinds of issues that were being dealt with and the long time it was taking to deal with these issues give me concerns both for residents' health and for their mental health," said Bonoguore.

Bonoguore and her fellow councillors discussed the leak at a committee meeting this week, and questioned city staff about what the municipality's responsibility is.

Shayne Turner, the city's director of municipal enforcement services, said the city doesn't have the power to investigate buildings without first being invited by a tenant.

But if tenants are having problems with their unit and aren't getting anywhere with their landlord, they can contact the property standards office, which will check to see if there's really a problem.

An inspector can issue a work order requiring property owners to fix problems, or hire someone to make repairs and add the bill to the property owner's taxes.

What's next  

The undergraduate students association says it will set up a committee to research student housing in Waterloo, and to look into the possibility of a class-action lawsuit against housing companies on behalf of students.

Turner said his team will be in touch with the universities to ensure students understand how his office works, and what they can offer to tenants.

And Bonoguore said she plans to speak to students about their housing rights during a scheduled day upcoming where she was planning to go door-to-door talking about street parties.

"I'm hopeful that residents and tenants become so aware of their rights and what's expected and how to get help that they end up being able to very successfully advocate for their own health and safety," said Bonoguore.

"I think anyone who has lived in rental accommodation knows that your state of living is as good as your landlord is," said uptown Waterloo councillor Tenille Bonoguore. (Paula Duhatschek/CBC)

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