Kitchener-Waterloo

Student activists stay the course in fight for better housing conditions

Illegal key deposits, a lack of local homeless shelter beds and the rising cost of rent were on the table Monday as a group of university students-turned-tenants' rights activists made a return appearance to City of Waterloo council.

Housing instability and poor conditions at student rentals among concerns

David Moscoe says students are facing a tight rental market, and feel they have little bargaining power with their landlords. (Paula Duhatschek/CBC)

Expensive key deposits, a lack of local homeless shelter beds and the rising cost of rent were on the table Monday as a group of university students-turned-tenants' rights activists made a return appearance to City of Waterloo council.

The students say they were thrust into activism this fall after a data leak released thousands of past maintenance requests at a local student-targeted rental company, and renewed conversation about tenants' rights.

Since then, they've protested outside city hall and appeared at council, calling on the city to take stronger action enforcing property standards and to develop more affordable housing.

Engineering student David Moscoe, 24, said improving conditions for student renters would also make life better for the region's most vulnerable.

"The same reasons that students are homeless are the reasons that homeless people are homeless," he said.

"If we're having a movement … we need to address the full scope of the issues, and anything less is doing nobody any favours except for the people that we're fighting against."

Key deposits a sticking point

Political science student Kiran Maldonado told councillors Monday about hefty charges that students often face for key deposits. According to the Landlord and Tenant Board, key deposits are only allowed if the deposit is refundable and aligns with the expected cost of replacing a set of keys.

Instead, Maldonado said the key deposits are often treated as de-facto damage deposits, costing hundreds of dollars.

"A 10 ounce key would have to be made of solid gold in order to warrant a $500 replacement fee," said Maldonado, who added that landlords are often loath to return them.

Moscoe said those who refuse to pay an expensive key deposit risk being told their landlord has found a new tenant.

"It's very difficult,  despite what the law may say, to actually create a situation … where somebody can outright refuse to sign a lease because of a key deposit and still have a place to stay," he said.

Kiran Maldonado told council that expensive key deposits are a recurring problem. (Paula Duhatschek/CBC)

'Passing bylaws isn't enough'

Problems with deposits will be a focus during future conversations with the city, Moscoe said. The group met with Ward 6 Coun. Jeff Henry in recent weeks, but Moscoe said they didn't have time to address every area of concern.

Henry said they did discuss the need for students to learn about their rights and how to act on them. He said the city's bylaw enforcement officers can help renters in bad living situations, but that first they need to be made aware of these issues.

"The gap between the data leak that you saw in terms of the large number of issues and the actual number of calls that we get … is substantial," said Henry.

Henry said the city has already condensed information on its website about rental housing support, and is counting on students to help spread it far and wide using social media.

He is also looking into whether the city can take a more proactive approach in enforcing rental standards and in supporting renters looking to start up tenant associations.

Going forward, Henry said he also plans to send a letter to the Minister of Municipal Affairs' office about students' concerns.

"Passing bylaws isn't enough," he said. "It's making sure people know how to use those tools to be as effective as possible."

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