Sudbury investigating illegal rooming houses targeting unsuspecting international students
City investigating ten sites reported since July
International students in Sudbury face their first test the moment they arrive in the city: finding a roof to put over their heads.
Many arrive exhausted, emotional and hungry in a new city and culture with new rules, disoriented after a long journey.
And some find themselves in dangerous situations.
A former Director of International Student Affairs with student council, Gurpreet Singh, says some students are unprepared and get bad advice.
"One of the examples was when a student was supposed to just stay overnight at a Tim Horton's in one part of a city which is quite dangerous," he says. "You know unfortunately this was the case that nobody was knowing the fact when is she arriving and when is this going to happen. You know it's just maybe God's grace that somebody got connected to the lady and then she survived and she actually got into different housing with someone who wanted to help."
Like all students, cost is a concern, and that can actually lead some international students to become vulnerable.
Both former graduates, Gurpreet Singh and Ranjodh Singh say they've been called to assist fellow students caught up in what the city calls illegal rooming houses.
Ranjodh Singh says a desperate student called him once about a bad housing situation and a negligent landlord..
"He is asking this amount of money and this place is, like, so garbage. Nobody comes to fix the things, the water taps are leaking. The doors are broken and the heating doesn't work properly. There are no fire alarms in there."
Both Ranjodh and Gurpreet say some landlords exploit the students' lack of knowledge about leases, threatening to throw them out unless they come up with more money.
Ranjodh Singh says students are afraid to speak up and worried about jeopardizing their immigration status.
"Not everybody is that emotionally strong to fight this in the first two weeks of their stay in Canada." says Singh. "And nor do they want to have this started because then they will lose focus on what their primary aim is to be in Canada for."
Complaints about unkempt properties trigger investigations
The City of Sudbury says the students' plight has not gone unnoticed.
The Manager of Building Inspections, Andre Guillot, says he's investigating ten complaints of rooming houses in a residential neighbourhood since July, mainly around Cambrian College and College Boreal.
He says the city finds out when neighbours complain about litter and buildings that aren't kept up.
Guillot says he's seen homes with rooms added without permits, blocked exits, rooms with no windows, fire code violations, and a lot of frightened young students.
He says if the landlords don't co-operate with his investigation, he has no choice but to pursue court action but he says the students are not to blame.
"They don't understand our laws and our safety rules here compared to where they're from are different," says Guillot. "And we want to make sure that, you know, like I said our primary goal when we go in to do our inspections is to make sure these kids are safe. And that means if we have to go buy smoke detectors or CO detectors, we won't leave the site until they're installed."
Guillot says ten is the highest number of sites he's had to investigate but notes similar problems have cropped up in college towns like Barrie and Ottawa.
Student safety a priority
He believes these houses are springing up because of a shortage of student housing.
In some cases, he says there's overcrowding and students have to be re-located.
"They're scared. We're not trying to intimidate the children. We want to make sure we can explain to them what is safe so that's why we're hoping to have this meeting with them at the college where it's a safe area for them"
Guillot says he is putting together a pamphlet with info about rules and regulations and student rights.
The College provides information on its website in English, but Guillot hopes to attend campus and answer questions directly.
The College itself is part of a program, new this year, to meet students at Pearson Airport to direct them to their destinations.
The College offers students two free nights in a motel in Sudbury upon arrival.
Orientation is scheduled in the first week.
Nicole Beauparlant is the Manager of International Support & Partnerships
She says the college has nothing to do with off-campus housing and isn't aware of a housing shortage.
Beauparlant says many new students secure housing prior to arrival by liaising with students already here.
She says the college is aware of the complaints about rooming houses in residential neighbourhoods and offers support.
"We are here. Any time there is a situation where a student would be distraught and something's happening we encourage them to come and meet with us and we will help support them in the best way we can," she says. "Of course we definitely care what goes on. And we're working closely with the community and others to try to find a solution."
As for Laurentian University, it says it encourages international students to stay in residence on campus.