Oshawa students’ houses raided by police

The city raided student houses for lease agreements in an attempt to combat absentee landlords

Tuesday, April 7th, 2009

Near the end of September, “highly questionable” actions by the City of Oshawa resulted in students’ homes being searched by police for lease agreements.

According to Fraser McArthur, president of the Student Association at Durham College, University of Ontario Institute of Technology and Trent College in Oshawa, city bylaw officials executed search warrants on homes during the last week of September, around the Durham and UOIT campus, allegedly for zoning purposes.

The city was granted 17 search warrants to obtain lease and rental agreements. At least 10 houses were searched.

“Officials have been pretty tight-lipped about the reasoning behind the searches,” McArthur said. He went on to add there have been numerous community issues this year regarding student relations with the city.

Bylaw officials allegedly confiscated lease agreements for properties determined to be “lodging houses.” The area surrounding the campus is zoned for single-family homes, but many landlords purchase properties and rent them out to students.

The city’s reaction to the issue has concerned McArthur. “Our residential zoning laws may be changed.

“Students could be evicted.”

Yet officials see things differently.

John Neal, city councillor for Ward Seven, where the campus is located, felt safety was a large issue in this case.

“[The city of Oshawa] is simply enforcing existing bylaws " specifically enforcing the zoning and ensuring that leases are signed legally,” he said.

Neal believed the city was going after absentee landlords.

“These landlords aren’t willing to maintain the property. The majority of students are [in Oshawa] to go to school, and they expect the landlords to take charge.

“I’m working with the students and the university.”

But many have raised concerns about the use of search warrants for the purposes of obtaining lease agreements.

Anonymous Durham and UOIT students claim uniformed officers searched through personal effects and belongings in order to find lease agreements.

Only student homes were subject to the “raids,” which were executed whether or not students were home.

Mayor of Oshawa, John Gray, said, “We went to the courts and the judge gave us permission based on the preliminary information we submitted that justified search warrants.

“This is not about the students. We have some homes that have been illegally converted.”

As for the use of search warrants, Gray believed landlords were to blame.

“Some [landlords] are pretty swift. Some of them are savvy enough to say ‘No, you’re not getting entrance.’”

Gray added allegations of searching through personal effects were “unfounded.”

Jason Voss, review counsel and lecturer in the Faculty of Law at Western, said

“In my 10 years of practicing criminal law, I’ve never seen search warrants executed for such a purpose,” Voss said.

“If the search was to look for lease agreements, then I would wonder why the police wouldn’t search the home of the landlord rather than the tenant,” he added.

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