Responsible for the roof above you

Tuesday, April 7th, 2009

January 24, 2007 Ed Cartoon

January is almost over and, as usual, many students are frantically searching for housing. Those who have already signed leases probably feel relieved, and some who are still looking may be freaking out and worrying they’ll be left in the cold.

Western student Meghan Sullivan wrote a letter to The Gazette discouraging students from getting caught up in the rush, making ill-informed decisions and ending up with a run-down house and sleazy landlord.

It would be nice to think all landlords are completely honest and trustworthy and that they’ll always jump to fix things whenever we ask. Unfortunately, anyone who has ever lived in or visited some of the houses in Western’s so-called “student ghetto,” near the Richmond gates knows there are lots of dumps out there and many slum-lords to accompany them.

Western’s hardly alone in its problems. Queen’s University in Kingston is famous for its student ghetto. Compared to those attending other universities and colleges in big cities like Toronto, Montreal, Ottawa and Vancouver, Western students are lucky because affordable housing and eight-month leases do exist if they look hard enough for them. Students can often find housing for just over $300 a month.

Whatever they pay, students are always at risk of falling prey to greedy landlords. Students who have never lived away from home before are particularly vulnerable. The City of London should do more to enforce housing bylaws and help students in these situations by cracking down on these landlords.

That said, renting property is a business and students can’t expect all landlords to be nice or even to have students’ best interests in mind.

But we can expect landlords to provide safe and livable accommodations and to stick to the agreements in their leases.

Unfortunately for some, the only way to ensure proper living conditions is familiarizing themselves with their rights in the Tenant Protection Act and taking responsibility for them. If you rent the first house you see or succumb to pressure from a greedy landlord, you may pay dearly for your poor choices. And if you choose to sit on the couch complaining instead of actively seeking help, you probably won’t get much sympathy.

Good housing is a two-way street. Landlords should be honest and responsible, and Western and the University Students’ Council should do everything possible to protect students. But ultimately, you’re the only one who can protect yourself.

Like Ms. Sullivan said, students should do research before committing to a lease. Talk to Housing and Ancillary Services at Western and to students who have lived in the city before. When you’re looking at a house, talk to the current tenants about any problems they may have had with their landlord.

Finally, while it’s important to know your rights, it also helps to develop a friendly relationship with your landlord. Respect their home and you’ll probably receive respect in return.

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