Lack of student interest in property assessments

The number of calls the Kingston property standards office receives from the Queen’s area is the city’s lowest. There have also only been 2 student-led property assessments so far this year. Why don’t more students use the service?

Hannah Glo, the Student Property Assessment Team chair, conducts a mini-assessment of 190 University Ave.
Hannah Glo, the Student Property Assessment Team chair, conducts a mini-assessment of 190 University Ave.

The last complaint the Kingston property standards office received from someone living in the Ghetto came two weeks ago, and it didn’t come from a student.

It didn’t come from a permanent resident either. The call came from a student’s mother, who had visited her child’s house for the weekend and was disgusted with what she saw.

That doesn’t surprise Steve Murphy, supervisor of the city’s four property standards officers. He said the number of calls his office receives from the Queen’s area that have to deal with a house’s interior are the lowest in the city. The drafty windows, dripping showers and squirrels in the walls don’t seem to stir enough student tenants to call their landlords. Most often, when Murphy’s officers investigate a complaint for a house in the Ghetto, they’re left asking the same question: why didn’t we hear about this sooner?

“There’s a fear of repercussion from their landlords,” Murphy said. “But they should not be kicked out for asking their landlord to fix a toilet that’s not flushing, or a hole in the roof.”

Students might also be preoccupied with school, away from home for the first time or unaware of their rights as a tenant, Murphy said.

“The funny thing is that there’s a sort of a feeling that [living in substandard housing] is part of the experience of going to Queen’s. It’s not right by any means.”

Hannah Glo is trying to change that, but is finding a similar pattern in her work. The ConEd ’08 student is the chair of the Student Property Assessment Team, a nine-member team the municipal affairs commission created last year.

Upon request, the team will conduct a property assessment to determine if students are living in accordance with the city’s bylaws.

“We’re hoping through this process landlords will be receptive to the students living in their houses,” she said.

The city trained Glo and twoother team members at the end of last summer to recognize bylaw infringements, and the three students trained the rest of the committee in September. The difference between the student team’s assessment and the city’s assessment is that the city’s assessment is legally binding. The team’s assessment is designed to help students avoid confrontation between their landlord and the city.

“We don’t want to further any bad relationships between the tenants and the landlord,” she said.

Students can request an inspection of their house by emailing, and Glo will send two or three team members to complete the task. But students haven’t been using the service. Despite setting up information booths, the team has only completed two inspections this year, Glo said.

Like Murphy, Glo said the problem lies with students thinking “that’s just the way it is. I will live in any house I can find on University Avenue.”

Another problem lies with the nomad-like situation in which students find themselves, tolerating a house just long enough until a one-year lease ends and it ecomes the next person’s problem. During the house-hunting season, Glo’s team will be speaking to first-year students and will accompany them, at the students’ request, while they’re searching for a place to live.

“Everyone is entitled to a property assessment,” she said.

Linda Chartier is the city’s property standards officer for the Queen’s area, which covers King Street West to Elm Street and Ontario Street to Nelson Street.

If it was up to her, she would do more interior inspections in addition to the most common complaints in the Queen’s area of garbage strewn across properties—a violation of the city’s property standards bylaw—and shattered glass bottles littering the streets.

“But we don’t go and solicit,” she said. “Other AMS groups have tried to get some input from students, but it always seems to fall flat.”

The city’s most recent statistics related to property standards in the Queen’s area date back to 2005.

During that year, there were 1,480 total complaints, and 45 per cent of those came in the Queen’s area. Of the 416 orders to repair something on or in the property, 189 came from this area, but only
25 per cent of the 189 orders were for fixing interiors.

Meanwhile, officers issued 79 per cent of the city’s yard notices in the Queen’s area, and the city’s contractor had to clean up 165 yards in 2005, and 145 of those yards were in the Queen’s area. During the winter, Chartier said, students should be most concerned about their houses’ insulation. Because most students pay for their utilities, they should ensure they’re not burning money away and living in unhealthy, cold conditions.

“These are issues we can address if we’re notified,” she said. Meanwhile, anyone can notify the city’s property standards office of a bylaw infringement by calling 613-546-4291, extension 3246. Anything from a broken appliance provided by the owner, to the cigarette butts and hamster shavings left by the last tenants is grounds to call the office. Murphy suggests contacting the landlord first, but tenants don’t have to.

After the property standards office receives a call, Murphy sends out an officer to inspect the problem, and any other bylaw infringements.

“While we’re there, if there’s anything glaring, we’re going to include it in the assessment,” he said.

The city will then send the property’s owner a letter, and he or she will have 14 days to fix the problem. If the problem isn’t fixed, the city takes legal action. Murphy said five per cent of calls in a year end up in court. The city’s most recent statistics related to property standards in the Queen’s area date back to 2005. During that year, owners were fined $50,550.

“Some of them are obviously looking for the most they can get on their investment,” Murphy said.

“They’re bringing in rent and not putting anything out.”

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