Landlord illegally collected $5K in rent from college students while listing their rooms on Airbnb
Landlord and Tenant Board ordered landlord to pay students back
A student at Humber College in Toronto is warning others to know their rights after she and her roommates found out their landlord was collecting thousands of dollars in rent from them while subletting their rooms and listing them concurrently on Airbnb this summer.
Aleida Budgeon-Strating, 20, rented an apartment near Humber's Lakeshore campus with two other students during the last school year. It was her first time living away from home and her first experience as a renter.
When the school year wrapped in May, she and her housemates decided they wanted to sublet their rooms for the summer. Budgeon-Strating and a housemate were headed back to Guelph, while another was going to Ottawa.
The roommates sent landlord Kathleen Beal various prospects for subtenants, but Beal did not approve them.
One of Budgeon-Strating's housemates soon grew suspicious of the landlord's response and decided to search for the apartment on Airbnb, where he unexpectedly found a listing.
'If Ms. Beal had done nothing, she still would have collected rent all summer.' - Robyn Budgeon, mother of Aleida Budgeon-Strating
At the same time, Budgeon-Strating communicated that if there was no one subletting it, then she wanted to continue to have access to her home throughout the summer as she was still paying rent on it.
"I sent [Beal] an email. She replied and said 'No,'" said Budgeon-Strating.
"I could not get my furniture back until Sept. 1. And because I had turned the keys back, I was no longer a tenant — which I thought was weird."
Budgeon-Strating had given the keys back to the landlord before she left, she explained, because she assumed that if an appropriate subtenant was found, they would need them.
Concern over the landlord's responses eventually brought Budgeon-Strating, her mother and her housemate's family back to Toronto in early June to investigate the situation for themselves.
Neighbours told them there were indications that people had been living in the apartment.
"The neighbours said they heard footsteps, and lights on and people moving around," she said.
Budgeon-Strating also encountered a stranger, walking out of the unit, who told them she was a summer subletter.
"I was shocked," Budgeon-Strating told CBC Toronto. "I felt taken advantage of."
The subletter also said other rooms were rented to Airbnb guests. To verify that, Budgeon-Strating had her uncle book one of the rooms, which he did successfully.
That's when Budgeon-Strating's mother took control of the situation. Robyn Budgeon brought a complaint before the Landlord and Tenant Board in July.
'Collected rent illegally'
The board's written decision revealed that during her testimony, Beal said one of Budgeon-Strating's housemates had consented to his room being listed on Airbnb. She also said she continued to collect rent from the students, despite earning additional income from both subtenants and Airbnb guests.
The decision stated Beal's justification was that she was operating the Airbnb bedroom at a financial loss, but the board ruled that was "not legal justification for her actions."
In the end, the board ruled the "landlord collected rent illegally from the tenants starting May 1, 2018," and ordered Beal to pay back $4,852 to the students.
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"We were angry these nice, decent honest kids were taken advantage of," said Budgeon, who represented the students, including her daughter, at the hearing.
"If Ms. Beal had done nothing, she still would have collected rent all summer. She didn't have to go through all this and create a mess for herself."
CBC Toronto tried to contact Beal multiple times for comment, but did not receive a response.
Budgeon said the landlord requested a review of the board's final decision.
Budgeon-Strating's situation does not surprise tenant advocates.
Karen Andrews, staff lawyer at the Advocacy Centre for Tenants Ontario, said she sees students in tough rental situations all the time.
"It's typical. They're seen as a vulnerable community," Andrews told CBC Toronto. "They're seen as a community that doesn't have legal resources, that don't fight back.
"They don't have a lot of money, generally, and they're often disconnected from the community," she said.
Andrews also points out many landlords she encounters in her cases think students are inexperienced, which Budgeon-Strating admits was the case with her.
"I didn't know the tenant laws," she said. "When [Beal] said I wasn't a tenant, I was confused and thought maybe she was right. Maybe if I'd known earlier, maybe if I had seen the signs, it could have been prevented."
The student, now in her second year at Humber, said she hopes her story will help other students avoid similar situations.
"Keep proof of everything," she said. "Know your rights."