Demands for illegal deposits, unlawful refusals of leases, collection of private information, and harassment and intimidation are among the many complaints that university housing offices have been receiving from international students in Montreal. In response, Concordia’s Student Union is urging the Quebec’s Human Rights Commission to look into the allegations.
“Abusive practices by landlords [are] an ongoing problem we have been dealing with for many years,” said Leanne Ashworth, off-campus co-ordinator of housing and bank job of CSU, in an email to the Tribune. “We are calling for the Quebec Human Rights and Youth Rights Commission to launch an investigation into the situation involving international students being subjected to abusive, discriminatory, and illegal apartment rental practices.”
CSU President Heather Lucas, said the student union is working on informing all students of their rights as tenants. “We are constantly looking for ways to reach these international students because we understand that they are in a vulnerable situation that allows landlords to take advantage of them.”
When complaints are received, she said, the landlords are investigated and banned from their housing website. “We want students to know they are not alone in this,” she added, “and that if they come forth we will advocate for them.”
Ashworth hopes that submitting information on abusive landlords to this inquiry will be the first step toward systemic change.
“We want these cases to be dealt with as discrimination at both the Regie de Logement and at the Quebec Human Rights and Youth Rights Commision,” she said.
Pamela Chiniah, customer service co-ordinator at McGill’s off-campus housing office, said she witnesses similar landlord abuse regularly at McGill.
“I have seen many students that landlords refuse either for not having a guarantor from Canada or because they cannot pay the first and last month of rent right away,” she said.
According to Chiniah, the Consumer Protection Office affirms that new arrivals to Quebec must come to a reasonable agreement with their landlord due to their lack of credit history. “But there is such a big grey area in that ‘reasonable agreement,'” she said. “What is it? One month’s rent? Two months’ rent?”
McGill is home to over 6,000 international students, many of whom lack co-signers or credit history in Canada, a circumstance that may be advantageous to landlords.
“International students are arriving right now, and are desperate to find a room or apartment and get set up in time for the beginning of the semester,” Lucas said. “Their search is time-sensitive and landlords know this.”
However, Chiniah noted some landlords may not be aware that in order for international students to receive their student visa, they must prove to both the government and the university that they have enough funds to cover their expenses.
“In the past we provided letters to landlords explaining this process, and I had many landlords calling me asking, ‘Do you want to be the co-signer?'” she said.
Since the CPO does not provide concrete examples of what they define as a “reasonable agreement,” it is more difficult for housing offices to approach landlords and call their practices illegal. Chiniah advises students to know their rights and responsibilities before approaching a landlord.
International students, Chiniah said, are sometimes afraid of giving their landlord’s name because of their immigration status.
“But in Canada [landlords] cannot contact immigration officers and tell them to kick you out,” Chiniah added. “It’s your right as a tenant. It’s your responsibility as a tenant.”
While landlord abuse is mainly directed at international students, Ashworth recognized that Canadian students often face difficulties when renting apartments as well. Their situation is usually better since they are able to have a co-signer, “often a parent with credit in Canada,” she said.
“Having a support system when looking at apartments can sometimes help to keep a landlord honest, and it is a luxury that many international students cannot afford,” Ashworth said. “They arrive often alone, and don’t know anyone in Canada who can give them information on Quebec housing laws.”
While a handful of landlords do seem to take advantage of international students, many landlords are much more receptive to such students.
“There are so many other landlords out there that are very flexible,” Chiniah said. “They have apartments around the university and they know who they are facing: students with no credit history, students with no income.”