UManitoba students living in overcrowded family homes, area residents say

Fort Richmond residents are concerned about university students crammed into single-family homes in the neighbourhood.
A single-family home near the University of Manitoba has 15 bedrooms for rent for international students, even though the owner was ordered to shut down the multi-unit house more than five years ago. 2:18
A single-family home near the University of Manitoba has 15 bedrooms for rent for international students, even though the owner was ordered to shut down the multi-unit house on Thatcher Drive he was running there more than five years ago.
Nick Hildebrand says his home is 'compliant' with city zoning bylaws. (Gary Solilak CBC News)

The homeowner, Nick Hildebrand, told CBC News he built five bedrooms on each floor of the 2,400-square-foot home along with washroom facilities. The students also all have a place to make meals.

"Each floor is identical," Hildebrand said. "I put in a brand new kitchen on each floor. So one, two, three kitchens."

Councillor doubts home meets rules

St. Norbert Coun. Janice Lukes said there is no way Hildebrand's home could be in compliance with city laws.

"He can't be in compliance. Is anything to code?" Lukes asked. "I looked around that house. There are no basement windows of the right size. There is a specific size of windows [required] when you've got dwellers in the basement."

According to a city report, in May of 2009 the city ordered Hildebrand to convert the house back to a single-family dwelling by the end of the year. City inspectors found it was being used as a "15-unit, single-room occupancy" at the time. This is not permitted under city laws because buildings zoned as residential are not to be rented out as single-rooms.

Zoning laws not only problem

But it was not just zoning laws that were being broken, according to the 2009 order.
Thatcher Drive home has 15 bedrooms/3 kitchens

"The conversion of this dwelling into multi-unit single room occupancies, without the required applications and approvals ,has resulted in the creation of a number of violations of the Manitoba Building code and consequently raised concerns for life safety," the order states.

Inadequate fire separations, deficient exits and a fire alarm system that was lacking were also noted.

When CBC News inquired further about the possibility that a large group of students was still living in the building, the city said its records indicate the house was turned back into "a single-family dwelling and being rented to students who live there as a family unit, which is legal under zoning regulations."

The city said a "family unit" can include a group of students who rent a house together and share all its facilities. 

A property is considered to be a rooming house when tenants rent individual rooms, according to zoning laws.

Owner wants safe place for students

Hildebrand said he charges between four and five hundred dollars per bedroom to the students.

He said the Thatcher Drive home is his principal residence "for tax reasons," adding he lives there as well and is"just sharing the house with students."

Hildebrand said he wanted a safe place for students from other countries to stay.

"I set it up for quality care for international students," he said.

Hildebrand said he did have some problems with the City of Winnipeg a few years ago. Those problems have since been solved, he added.

"I'm not sure exactly how that stuff goes, but at that time I satisfied the city with all the stuff they were looking at," he said. "As far as I know I am in compliance."

Hildebrand also admitted he owns other homes where he rents out rooms to students.

Lack of Enforcement

Coun. Lukes said part of the problem is the city doesn't have the resources to visit the homes and inspect them.

"When you have a limited number of bylaw officers and ... on virtually every street in the community you've got rooming houses or rental houses with an abnormal number of students in them, it's a big problem," she said.

Lukes said she has been fielding multiple complaints from residents about "rooming houses" and is lobbying the University of Manitoba and the city to get involved in the problem.

David and Margaret Burton took their complaints about their next-door neighbour directly to the city. The students are not bothering them but they are sick of the overgrown, unkempt yard.

"We phoned the city several times," said Margaret. "We are sick of talking to the owner."

No help from 311

The couple said they phoned the city's 311 line to complain about the grass and other maintenance issues but nothing was done. They are also concerned their next-door neighbour is operating some kind of rooming house and wonder why no one from the city is looking at the problem.

"I have no idea what the penalties are for transgressing that particular bylaw, but I think they should try and enforce the bylaw," said David. "The first clue is total lack of maintenance and the second clue is hordes of students going in and out."

Lukes convinced city officials to look at best practices for student housing issues in other cities. That report will be tabled at the meeting of the property and planning committee on Friday.

A spokesperson for the University of Manitoba admitted there is a shortage of on-campus housing. John Danakas said the school is planning to add more spaces to the 1,500 already on campus, but couldn't say how many would be built or when.

He added the university is aware of concerns about off-campus student-housing and is working with Lukes on the problem.

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