Summer sublet turns sour

Student recalls “nightmare” of deadbeat subtenants

Stephanie Whittaker, Ed '06
Stephanie Whittaker, Ed '06

Students who are thinking of subletting, beware. Our former subtenants may be moving into your house or apartment with no intention of paying rent.

If we suspected that they might cause us any trouble, we would have signed the sublease with another party. Because we didn’t expect any trouble, we were left to pay thousands of dollars in rent and eviction fees.

The subtenants didn’t pay their rent for four months, despite knowing our financial and familial situation before signing the sublease. My husband and I were forced to pay the rent they owed us with debt money. As full-time students and parents, student loans are our only source of income. This was more than a small setback. If we had been unable to pay by mid-May, I wouldn’t have been permitted to graduate. Fortunately, the University supplied an emergency bursary and I was able to arrange a loan for the rest of the expenses. We were able to successfully complete our school year and meet most of our own financial obligations. Although the saga should be coming to an end, I am reminded of the situation daily. I am currently away from my young child for more than 60 hours a week earning enough money to get our lives back on track.

Here’s the story: In the fall, our family was excited to finally receive a subsidized housing unit after reaching the top of the waiting list and we moved out of our Queen’s-owned unit. We were prepared to pay two leases until January when we hoped a student would take over the University lease. The University lease stipulates that tenants can’t end the lease early unless they assign the lease to students, but no student seemed interested in renting from us.

After two months of paying double rent and with no students able to take the lease, we proceeded to plan B.

We used a fair process to a find a subtenant from the community. The subtenants we selected were gainfully employed and met our criteria. Their sublease, which included all utilities, would end in August. We remained tenants and, as such, were responsible for any damages or any unpaid rent.

Then the nightmare began.

No rent payments were ever made. From the subtenants’ side, there were numerous delays and deceptions. They claimed to be unable to afford rent and were always promising that they were awaiting a cheque so they could pay in full. Yet they had a fully-stocked kitchen (all left behind), satellite television and several pets.

The legal process to evict the subtenants was lengthy and emotionally draining. The subtenants repeatedly disputed our legal rights and their contractual obligations. Their sweet demeanor quickly turned hostile when they were unable to stop the eviction. They wouldn’t allow us to enter the unit for prospective tenants to view and acted as if we had wronged them. In addition, the neighbours complained to us of excessive noise.

The date of eviction did not bring an end to the occupancy. The subtenants stubbornly remained in the unit even after the eviction date, and we had to pay to enforce the eviction the following week. The apartment was not left in pristine condition as promised. The walls were yellow from cigarette smoke, covered in holes and pet litter was scattered on the floor.

It took three people more than eight hours each to clean the unit.

I am frustrated that these subtenants lived rent-free on our student loans. They didn’t seem to care when we told them that we didn’t have enough money to feed our family. They knew their rights, and deserted us without apologizing for not paying their rent.

I am disappointed that we have no avenue to inform other landlords of their behaviour, which they may repeat. Apart from credit and reference checks, landlords do not always investigate eviction records. The final tally came to more than $4,000 in unpaid rent and eviction fees.

But we lost something much more valuable: we’ve lost our faith in others.

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