Volume 96, Issue 56
Thursday, January 9, 2003

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Landlords, shacks and animals make for shitty situations

By Andrea Chiu
Gazette Staff

When you factor in the newfound responsibility of paying the bills that pile up at your door and being forced to fend for yourself when it comes to food, living in student housing during your university years can offer many hurdles.

In residence they cook for you, they clean for you and generally take care of all the problems in your room/suite. There are no electric bills, water bills, cable bills or Mormons who come to your door trying to convert you with their colourful pamphlets.

By the time anyone graduates with a bachelor's degree, a student is sure to have stories about student housing.

Whether it's the insane roommate who sleepwalks at night, the ceiling that caved in during a party or a landlord who refuses to fix things, there are always stories – and many of them can quickly turn into nightmares.

Tom McKinlay, a fourth-year political science student at Western, knew he and his buddies had picked the wrong house the first day they moved in.

"The first time we walked in, there were dead bats in the basement," he said, noting later on that year, the ceiling in the living room collapsed not once, but twice. The first time, a friend of McKinlay's had the ceiling cave in on his head and was lucky to walk away with only a minor shoulder injury, he explained.

"The plumbing was broken upstairs and something burst in the bathroom. There was a foot of water, which made the ceiling collapse again. There was a raccoon living in the attic and it would piss on the ceiling, so the ceiling in my friend's room was all yellow and smelled like shit," he said.

While these images of flooded homes and dead bats may seem like things we see in exaggerated sitcoms or insurance commercials, they do exist. Glenn Matthews, Western's housing mediation officer, has seen his fair share of bad living conditions.

"The absolute worst ones are when you're in the basement apartment and the sewer backs up and you have a foot of raw sewage," he explained.

Talk about a shitty situation.

Matthews and the off-campus housing advisors are on campus to help students avoid situations, such as clogged sewage and floods, and work through problems with landlords. Matthews suggested that, for the most part, students are happy with their living situations. Housing Mediation Services conducted a survey and found that 90 to 95 per cent of Western students were satisfied with their landlords and their homes.

McKinlay, on the other hand, suggests that rental agencies around London are to blame for poor property management. His home was run by one of the city's rental agencies, and he said he wouldn't rent with them again.

"The company's so big and they control so much of the market down here," he explained. "Our landlord had 10 houses, so we saw him maybe once all year. Even when all the damage happened and the roof fell in all those times, he didn't even come by. We'd call him and he'd send people, but he'd never come check himself. So it's kind of like, 'you don't really give a shit if we die in this little hell hole do you?'"

Fourth-year geography student Jeff Hignett also lived in a sketchy house owned by a sketchy landlord during his second year. While McKinlay complains of seeing too little of his landlord, Hignett, saw too much.

One morning, Hignett and his roommates found their landlord practically naked in the midst of changing his clothes in the living room. Without warning, their landlord had come to the house to clean out the clogged eavestrough that flooded the basement, and proceeded to change in sight of all.

Amongst the uncut grass, the eavestrough full of dead leaves and a strange landlord, Hignett later discovered that he had a pet – a pet mouse, that is, and it was living in the mattress of his bed.

"It had burrowed itself in the mattress, I didn't find out until I packed up and found a hole in my mattress," Hignett said.

While Hignett didn't find out about his pet friend until it was too late, Matthews reminds students that all problems, big or small, should go to the landlord in writing and to make sure students keep a copy for themselves.

"You never know when a small thing is going to be a big thing," Matthews explained. "When there's a leak in a pipe, you never know when it's going to burst. If you've informed the landlord of the problem in writing, that transfers the liability to the landlord. If you want to report a violation to the city, they'll want proof that you've tried to talk to the landlord."

While having funny stories about ghetto student housing to tell your grandchildren might be the bright side of a bad situation, students should be sure to protect themselves. The story is a lot funnier if a landlord has to replace a computer you lost to a flood instead of replacing you.

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2002 THE GAZETTE