By Erich Engert
The stairs on the front porch are held together by door hinges, the front door hasn’t closed properly in years, a basement support beam keeps falling down and the floors are sinking.
Given the number of students that are required to live in the appalling and unhealthy conditions of off-campus student housing in Ottawa, the city needs to take action and become more involved in the housing situation to ensure landlords are not taking advantage of students.
Being a University of Ottawa and Algonquin College student, I have lived and spent much of my time in and around the University of Ottawa. Near there is a community that defines the very low quality housing standards I am speaking of and the first place I lived after leaving the residence at the University of Ottawa.
It’s understandable that students don’t need much in terms of housing to get through school, nor do they have a lot of money, but it appears to me that some landlords use these facts to take advantage of students. It is my experience that they would rather save money by performing shoddy repairs and charging insane amounts of rent for “homes” that are falling apart.
In my search for affordable housing in Ottawa over the last few years, it appears that landlords refuse to do any major repairs unless the place is about to collapse. I have seen housing that is unkempt, dirty and smells like something died between the walls.
The toilet often refuses to flush, there are days when taps refuse to produce any hot water and a family of rambunctious rodents has chosen to nest in your attic. Other issues include moldy bathrooms and bedrooms where carpets are needed to stop a chair from rolling away. Why are landlords permitted to rent housing that is physically inadequate and unhealthy to students?
If there is an issue with the apartment, the student can ask the landlord to resolve the problem before the move-in date, but with a surplus of students looking for housing accommodations it’s easy for the landlord to refuse the student and go with the next person who comes through the door.
As students, we are told to put a request in to the landlord for repairs or to fix any issues with the house to bring up the standards of the house. But from personal experience, depending on the landlord, they’ll often opt for the cheapest solution that doesn’t actually solve the problem, such as using door hinges to hold steps together.
Another option would be for students to contact Property Standards to have a look at the housing but by doing so they risk being removed from the premises due to its poor condition.
We are stuck between a rock and a hard place.
Every September there is a fresh new group of young adults looking to Ottawa for their post-secondary education. These students come from all over Canada and some from other countries. Sooner or later, these students will need to live off-campus.
These ‘homeless’ students set out to find suitable, yet affordable, housing. This adventure can prove very difficult because, like them, other students are looking for the same. This is how landlords get their power.
The landlord can charge whatever they want for housing because there is always someone who will be desperate or willing enough to pay.
The opposing argument says there are plenty of complaints being made by community members that speak out against students living in their area due to noise levels and parties. What we rarely hear are people speaking out about the substandard conditions and unaffordable housings that students must endure.
The solution lies in the hands of the city. The city needs to perform periodic inspections and enforce that landlords be required to maintain their property or risk fines or legal action. Poor housing accommodations should not be an option or possibility.