Students brace for rent hikes
By Dave Yasvinski
House hunting will become even more challenging for students this year thanks in part to new legislation that comes into effect in May.
The legislation was introduced by the Ministry of Municipal Affairs and Housing and will allow Ontario landlords to use their own discretion when setting rent prices. Although passed last November, it comes into effect at a time when many students will be signing leases for the upcoming school year.
Glen Matthews, housing mediation officer for Western's housing and food services, said once the legislation is in place landlords can raise rent prices as high as they like when their properties are vacant. Then, when a lease is signed, rent controls currently at an annual increase of three per cent come back into effect.
"The speculation is rent prices could increase in areas where vacancy rates are low, such as near the university," Matthews said.
He added this could force students to remain in the same house or apartment for several years to keep rent controls in place or to move to an area where vacancy rates are high enough to keep rent prices low.
However, Carol Weinbaum, director of public affairs for the Fair Rental Policy Organization of Ontario, an organization which represents individuals who own, build and manage properties, said the rental industry would have preferred rent controls to be abolished altogether, forcing landlords to compete with one another.
Weinbaum said renters would prefer this form of open competition to having government rent controls dictating how much they can charge. "Rent controls are a psychological factor, with no controls you would get more investors and tenants would benefit from this they would have more choice," she said.
Nick Iozzo, municipal affairs commissioner for the University Students' Council, said the new legislation is causing fear among students. "There is concern among mature students and single parents who move every year that this could adversely affect them."
But Shannon Hazell, a fourth-year English and German student, said although she could see the potential problem of rent increases, the onus remains on students to check out what they can afford. "It's the students' responsibility to shop around and find out what's a good price.
"I just hope it doesn't develop into a trend where housing becomes just as expensive as Toronto," she said.
However, Weinbaum said there is no danger of this happening. "London is an area where rent control is not setting rent market prices demands are. Nobody is going to ask for more than people can pay," she said.
The new legislature will also force landlords to provide rent receipts and will send landlord-tenant disputes before a tribunal instead of provincial courts.