Photos by Catherine Goce

Finding off-campus housing can be a stressful experience for McMaster students for a variety of reasons, and it does not look like that will change anytime soon. With the increased number of students enrolled at the university, off-campus housing is becoming harder to find.

According to McMaster University official statistics, more than 27,000 full-time undergraduate students are enrolled at the university this year, a figure 20 per cent higher than the 22,558 undergrad students enrolled five years ago.

According to Andrew Parashis, a property manager at Spotted Properties, the largest property management in the McMaster community, the student housing supply has not been able to keep up with the rising demand.

The number of students seeking housing through Spotted Properties has tripled over the past year, easily surpassing the number of new properties the company has taken on.

“With McMaster taking on so many people, there are a lot of people saying they can’t find a house,” Parashis said.

Much of the increase in demand can be attributed to the increase in international students, who Spotted Properties work with regularly.

In 2014-2015, McMaster had 1,499 full-time international undergraduates. This year, that number has doubled.

According to Parashis, another contributing factor this year is the higher number of first year students that have come to Spotted Properties to find accommodation.

McMaster currently cannot accommodate all first-years in residence. Instead, only incoming first-years with an average of 83.5  per cent or higher are guaranteed residence placement.

To accommodate incoming students, the university is developing two new residences: the Peter George Living and Learning Centre, slated to open this fall, and an off-campus residence, scheduled for August 2021.

Yet, with the Peter George Living and Learning Centre adding only 500 beds, some first-year students will likely still have to find non-residence accommodations next year.

One of the byproducts of increased housing demand is higher prices.

We’re renting houses out for an average of $550 dollars right now,” Parashis said. “Our most expensive places are about $700 a room, which is very high. The problem is there’s such a lack of good quality homes, so it allows landlords to demand high prices if they offer premium product.”

Students are also forced to live further from McMaster.

“We have people going as far as Dundurn to rent,” said Parashis.

These issues are compounded by existing problems in the student housing industry, such as pervasive landlord discrimination.

"Many landlords have negative stereotypes of people and have made judgement based on race, gender and even university program, which isn't fair,” said Parashis.

These biases make it frustrating for students, who are often not given an equal chance at securing a house.

An especially frustrating situation can occur when landlords break an agreement with students before a contract is signed or a payment is made.

Parashis says students independently negotiating with landlords are susceptible to this problem, leading them to employ companies like Spotted Properties, which use a standardized transaction process.

Spotted Properties, which is run by former McMaster students, is working to address these issues by ensuring contracts and policies align with current best practice guidelines and providing 24/7 service to tenants.

In addition, the company is working closely with agencies abroad to reserve homes for international students at the university.  

The McMaster Students Union has also been working to improve students’ experiences with off-campus housing, pushing the city of Hamilton to go forward with a landlord licensing pilot project.

The MSU municipal affairs committee also launched a landlord rating website in January.

Despite these efforts, student housing issues are many, and the solutions remain unclear. Addressing them will likely require concerted efforts from all parties involved.

 

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Photo C/O Catherine Goce

It’s that time of the year where everyone is looking for a place to rent. Searching for off-campus housing is a source of headache for many students. But what students shouldn’t have to worry about is invasions of their privacy.  

As of now, my landlord could text me saying he has a viewing for the house within the next hour and he’d be allowed to enter the property. Why? According to Ontario’s Residential Tenancies Act, once tenants have given notice to terminate their tenancy, landlords are allowed to show prospective tenants the property so long as they make a “reasonable effort to inform the current tenants of their intentions to do so”.  

The ambiguity of “reasonable effort” allows landlords to barely give any notice that they will enter the property. It even states in Section 26 that this “reasonable effort” does not have to be within 24 hours’ notice. Though this is technically legal, it serves as a major inconvenience to tenants who cannot be expected to schedule their day around frequent and inconsistent house showings.

Beyond a mere inconvenience, allowing landlords to enter student-rented property essentially whenever they wish to do so can be seen as a threat to student safety. Without adequate notice, students may have not have time to secure their valuables or ensure that they are not in compromising positions.  

Students are in especially vulnerable positions, many of whom are not well-versed in their rights and may even be minors.

Although it may very well be in the best interest of students to allow their landlord to show the property to prospective tenants — as the sooner the new lease is signed, the sooner the invasions of privacy can stop — it does not excuse the blatant disrespect that students have to endure when their landlords appear at odd hours of the day with little notice.

The only requirement of landlords when showing the property to prospective tenants, besides “reasonable effort to inform”, is that they must enter between the times of 8:00 a.m. and 8:00 p.m. This should barely be considered a requirement as that timeframe basically cover the entirety of waking hours.

Realistically, appointments for house showings are made well in advance of 24 hours. As such, landlords should be mandated to inform tenants at least 24 hours in advance prior to entering the property, as they are required to in almost any other situation.

In fact, as it stands, landlords can only enter the property without giving 24-hour notice in cases of emergency, under the tenant’s consent, where the tenancy agreement allows for the landlord to enter the property within specified times to clean or during property showings.

While the other situations make sense, as with the exception of an emergency, they require the tenant’s consent, there is no reason to not give tenant’s 24-hour notice before property showings.

Beyond such a requirement being in the best interests for the tenants, giving adequate notice can benefit the landlord as it gives the tenants time to clean the property and make it look presentable.

The government should seriously consider revisiting their tenancies act in order to make these changes. This not only affects students, but tenants across Ontario.

 

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