Second Cockroach for Lam

John and Richard McNevin awarded Key to the Ghetto

286 Queen St., which houses five Queen’s students, has a fly-infested fan and an exposed radiator.
286 Queen St., which houses five Queen’s students, has a fly-infested fan and an exposed radiator.
Photo: 
Fly-infested fan.
Fly-infested fan.
Photo: 
Exposed radiator.
Exposed radiator.
Photo: 

Phil Lam will be awarded the dubious honour of two-time Golden Cockroach recipient at a press conference in the JDUC today at 1 p.m.

The Kingston landlord won the award for worst student landlord last year for 288 Earl St. and will
receive it again this afternoon for his property at 286 Queen St. “In terms of the worst of the worst, 286 Queen St. definitely takes the cake,” said Ryan Quinlan Keech, AMS municipal affairs commissioner. “I can’t believe people are living there.”

Lam responded to the Journal’s interview request with an e-mail, saying he has never received a
maintenance complaint. “It is quite possible that there may be some complaints proportionately. I believe the service I offer is as good as any other landlord at Queen’s. It’s just that I have so many more apartments that there may well be complaints from a very small minority not reflective of the rest of my tenants.”

But Lam also said none of his tenants have complained of property standards.

“One would wonder why such a negative statement is being made by the AMS, when none of the
complaints have any reference to the lack of maintenance or building standard in my housing units.”
In the e-mail Lam told the Journal he will not be attending today’s press conference.

Andrea Ruzzo, ArtSci ’07, is one of five students living in the Queen Street house. She nominated the
house for the award.

The house has mould, missing or broken screens, broken windows, missing handrails, inoperable windows and cracked or slanted floors. At one point, Ruzzo said, a group of people began living in the shed beside the house, lighting candles to keep warm at night. It wasn’t until Ruzzo’s father e-mailed
Lam that the door of the shed was padlocked.

“There’s a lot of scary things going on at night, too. … We’ve seen people having sex, we’ve seen drug deals,” she said. On kingstonrentals.com, potential renters can take an online tour of Lam’s house, a “renovated bungalow with many updates … close to downtown amenities … and 8-10 minute walk to campus.”

Ruzzo said before she and her housemates moved in two years ago, Lam never came to clean the house. She said the effort to clean the house took an entire day, but much of the house, such as the mouldy bathroom, is “just uncleanable.” In the kitchen, Ruzzo pointed to the fan above the stove.

“Little flies will come out of it ... if you turn it on, so we try to stay away from it,” she said, adding that the smoke alarm in the house goes off every time she and her housemates use the oven.

To preserve their sanity, they unplug the alarm during the day and plug it in every night before they go to bed. Ruzzo said Lam also hasn’t been co-operative when the tenants ask him to do some repairs on the house. With five students living in the bungalow, each tenant pays $320 per month. Next year, the rent is going up.

“He’s raising it up to $400 per month for the next people,” Ruzzo said. “That’s probably my biggest
problem, that he’s compromising our health and safety, you know, for cash.”

But on the online advertisement, as well as on the landlord’s flyer, the house is listed as being $2,200— that’s $440 per month if there are five tenants, though prices are “negotiable.”

“It’s sad when that’s the lowest price you can get here,” Ruzzo said, adding that Lam is currently bringing potential new tenants through. “I’m trying to do my best to dissuade people from getting it,”
she said. The Golden Cockroach Award and the Key to the Ghetto Award were first given out by last year’s AMS executive in an effort to raise awareness about the state of student housing.

The commission awards the Golden Cockroach to the nominated landlord whose house has the worst living conditions; the Key to the Ghetto goes to the nominated landlord whose house has the best living conditions. This year’s recipients of the Key to the Ghetto are brothers John and Richard McNevin, property manager and owner of Kingont Investments, respectively. Richard McNevin said he was
“thrilled” to win the award. “It’s very nice to be recognized,” he said. “I like to think it’s because we’re responsive to tenants’ calls, and trying to keep the properties in good shape.” In February, Keech, Hannah Glow, ConEd ’08 and chair of the Student Property Assessment Team, and other members of the municipal affairs commission, invited the Journal to observe their house inspections for this year’s
Golden Cockroach and Key to the Ghetto nominees. Keech said Lam wasn’t upset when he was told he would be receiving the Golden Cockroach again this year.

“He was just sort of like, ‘Oh, well, I didn’t know what was going on with this; if I had known, I would have done something.’ I was like, ‘Well, Phil, you and I both know that if any inspectors come in that place …’ ” Glow and her property assessment team were trained by city officials to recognize bylaw
infringements. The team inspected nominated houses for poor ventilation, peeling paint, mould, mildew and pests or rodents, among other things. Glow said Lam’s award-winning house is a fire hazard because there’s only one exit; its concealed location in a back alley made the team wonder whether a fire truck would be able to make it to the property.

“I don’t even think they know it’s here,” she said. But the safety issues and the questionable aesthetics aren’t the only reason why Lam won this year’s award; Lam owns all three houses that were featured on this year’s tour. In one house, a copy of the Landlord and Tenant Act from 1990—which has since
been replaced by the Residential Tenancies Act—hangs in the entranceway. “This is almost like, ‘OK,
tenants—this is the law,’ ” Keech said. “We always tell students that if your landlord’s talking about the Landlord and Tenant Act, he’s probably not on the ball.”

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The municipal affairs commission will announce the awards today at 1 p.m. in the lower ceilidh of the JDUC.

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