SSMU’s Affordable Student Housing Committee (ASHC), an arm of the Legislative Council created in Fall 2019, aims to advocate for tenants’ rights, specifically those of McGill students. On January 10, the committee hosted an event over Zoom, titled “How to not get screwed over by your landlord,” to educate students on navigating lease transfers, refusing and negotiating rent increases, subletting, renoviction, and other common housing concerns.
Around 100 people – the majority of whom were students – attended the event, which featured presentations from the Legal Information Clinic at McGill (LICM), The Concordia Student Union’s Off-Campus Housing and Job Bank (HOJO), and the ASHC itself about their plans for building affordable housing for the McGill community in partnership with Unité de travail pour l’implantation de logement étudiant (UTILE).
Noah Merali, Services Representative and ASHC Member, facilitated the event, along with VP External and ASHC Member Ayo Ogunremi.
The event opened with a presentation by Julianna Duholke, Director of Community Services at LICM, and covered common questions about housing rights and the legality of many common practices in the housing market – including whether landlords can ask for a security deposit/furniture deposit/last month’s rent when a tenant first signs a lease (they can’t, only first month’s rent), whether it is the tenant’s responsibility to pay for repairs (it is for minor repairs but not major ones), whether a tenant is allowed to sublet if there is a no-subletting clause in lease (they can, but they must inform their landlord) and whether a tenant can refuse a rent increase (they can). LICM is a resource by and for students who need housing advice and assistance, and can also assist students in navigating the Tribunal administratif du logement (TAL), an agency of the Quebec government which handles relations between landlords and tenants.
Representing HOJO, Alex Apostolidis elaborated upon the process of refusing a rent increase and transferring leases – actions that keep rent prices down and protect other residents in the community. Apostolidis also touched on the problem of gentrification in many Montreal communities, the importance of student’s being mindful of the space they occupy in these communities, and gave tips on how students can do their part in keeping rent affordable.
While HOJO is technically intended as an organization for Concordia students, many of their resources are available and applicable to McGill students, such as likehome.info (also available in French: lappart.info and Mandarin: zufangba.info) – a resource for apartment hunting and choosing a neighbourhood in Montreal – and their online classifieds for jobs and housing. They also run workshops on practical tools that help students navigate Montreal’s housing system.
In addition to advocating for tenants’ rights and educating students through events like this one, the committee also works closely with community organizations, ASHC Committee Member Andrew Faber explained. The committee has partnered with the The Milton-Parc Citizens’ Committee (MPCC) to advocate for public ownership of former hospital sites such as the Royal Victoria Hospital. ASHC is also currently working with UTILE to create an affordable student housing project for McGill students, similar to the Woodnote Cooperative, created for Concordia students by HOJO and UTILE.
In the past few years, rental vacancy rates in Montreal have plummeted to 1.5% as of June 2020. Rental prices are also increasing – in the 18 February 2020 episode of Unfit to Print, it was reported that in “14 different buildings, across Montreal […] the average renting price went up by 13%” from January 2019 to January 2020.
The housing coalition Regroupement des comités logement et associations de locataires du Québec (RCLALQ) has issued a statement about the housing crisis, as well as its disproportional effects on BIPOC and lower income communities: “Even if discrimination is prohibited under the Quebec Charter of Human Rights and Freedoms, many landlords do not hesitate to discriminate or use different schemes to avoid renting to certain people,” explained RCLALQ spokesperson Maxim Roy-Allard. “These low vacancy rates intensify the discrimination experienced by tenants as owners become more selective.”
This selectivity impacts students as well – according to the motion that led to the creation of the ASHC, “McGill students pay significantly more in rent than any other student population in Quebec.” Committee members believe that McGill students deserve tools to combat this; more ASHC events will be announced in the coming months as they continue their efforts to educate students on tenants’ rights and ways to combat rising rent prices to protect the entire community.
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The author of this article has a personal relationship with Noah Merali, a member of ASHC. They were not interviewed or contacted for the purposes of this article.