Unfinished Waterloo building forces students to make new plans

The mother of a prospective tenant at a Waterloo apartment building catering to students says the property manager has breached a rental contract and won’t refund deposits.

Construction delays have indefinitely delayed occupancy at 1 Columbia Street West

The exterior of 1 Columbia Street on Monday. (Nick Boisvert/CBC)

The mother of a prospective tenant at a Waterloo apartment building catering to students says the property manager has breached a rental contract and won’t refund deposits.

Schembri Property Management advertised a September 4th move-in date for its new residence at 1 Columbia Street West, but construction at the 22-storey building is still underway. Tenants still cannot move in.

The company notified tenants on September 1st that completion was delayed indefinitely.

"People are just in shock," said Shari Jonas, who had signed on as a guarantor for her son Blake.

"They were so not ready to accommodate and they never let us know until the witching hour."

In a statement to CBC, Schembri wrote that construction was delayed because "the constructor was not able to get the appropriate manpower on site.

"We are doing everything in our power to push the finish of occupancy as soon as possible. We have forced subcontractors to bring in extra manpower, and also brought in extra subcontractors to aid the delayed construction."

The company did not specify what work still needed to be done. Schembri said that tenants were notified of a possible delay on Aug. 24, but confirmed they were only told on Sept. 1 the units weren't ready to move into. The company did not provide an updated timeline for completion.

Construction workers outside 1 Columbia Street West on Monday. The building was scheduled to be completed Sept. 4. (Nick Boisvert/CBC)

The company has offered tenants the option to transfer their leases to other properties, pay pro-rated rent based on delayed occupancy, or stay in a hotel, paid for by Schembri.

However, the company has not offered to terminate leases or return $1,450 tenant deposits.

"This is just the worst situation," said Jonas. "Nowhere did they say you can get out of the lease and ‘here’s your money back.'"

CBC News acquired a copy of the lease used by Schembri Property Management at 1 Columbia Street for review with a legal expert.

"The residential tenancies act is absolute," said Shaun Harvey, paralegal and owner of Riverview Legal Services in Kitchener. "The act clearly states that if the landlord is unable to give possession of the unit, the tenant is entitled to a full refund.

"There does not appear to be any exception in law for any reason such as construction delays," he added.

Jonas’ son and his four roommates have already signed new leases at other properties. Jonas says she’ll co-ordinate legal action if Schembri continues to hold out.

"I want people to feel like they’re not alone in this," she said. "That there’s a group of parents that are going to band together."

Harvey added that he sees these types of cases frequently, and that he has not yet seen a tenant lose in court.