Ups & downs of student-landlord relationships

Municipal Affairs Commissioner says worst landlord award damages tenant-landlord relationships

Geoff and Karen Heminsley were awarded this year's Golden Key Award by Kingston Mayor Mark Gerretsen.
Geoff and Karen Heminsley were awarded this year's Golden Key Award by Kingston Mayor Mark Gerretsen.
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Former AMS President Ethan Rabidoux awarded Phil Lam the Golden Cockroach in 2006.
Former AMS President Ethan Rabidoux awarded Phil Lam the Golden Cockroach in 2006.
Photo: 

Cindy Kwong and her housemates say they’re taking their landlord to small claims court this month.

For the last few weeks, Kwong and her housemates have been living with friends and in a hotel instead of their 72 Division St. home. A fire on March 10 damaged the house’s front area and parts of the second floor, leaving it unfit for living.

According to Kwong, ArtSci ’14, over $1,500 was spent in moving and hotel fees while the property was inhabitable. Though their landlord isn’t legally obligated to pay for their accommodation, Kwong said she’s filing for emotional damages.

Their landlord, Wayne Gollogly, couldn’t be reached for comment to the Journal.

The AMS used to offer tenants an opportunity to voice concerns about landlords in the form of an annual award, the Golden Cockroach.

Last year, there was a nomination period for the award which recognized the worst landlord in the Student Ghetto, but no nominations were received. This year, the award was discontinued.

Landlord Phil Lam won the last two Golden Cockroach awards to be given out — in 2006 for his property at 288 Earl St. and in 2007 for his property at 286 Queen St.

“Some of the claims that were made in nominations for the Golden Cockroach were potentially libelous. We weren’t sued, but we were certainly threatened by those landlords,” Dave Sinkinson, municipal affairs commissioner, said.

Sinkinson, ArtSci ’11, said he strongly supports the discontinuation of the award.

“The Golden Cockroach poisons any relationship we can have with landlords to help you fix your property,” he said. “It’s something that’s very reckless for the Society to be doing.

“I don’t believe that any organization should be in the business of publicly shaming someone.”

Sinkinson said there are other ways to keep landlords accountable.

“Frankly, landlord-tenant issues are best taken on by the tenant. It’s your contract with your landlord,” he said. “As a general note, having things in writing is really important. And basically keeping on them and following the law. It will work out for you.”

Stephanie Kromfli and her housemates didn’t think twice about nominating their landlords for the AMS’ Golden Key Award. Formerly partnered with the Golden Cockroach, the Golden Key is given to recognize the best landlord.

It was presented to Kromfli’s landlords Geoff and Karen Heminsley during a ceremony earlier this month.

This year, there were 16 nominations. The winner is chosen by representatives from the AMS Municipal Affairs Commission.

The Heminsleys, who own nine properties, were nominated by three separate tenants.

“They go out of their way to help us. They kind of take that extra step beyond what’s required of a typical landlord,” Kromfli said.

When her house had a break-in over the holidays, the Heminsleys responded immediately.

“They were actually on their way to a family function, and they still came right away and helped us with the police report,” Kromfli said. “They’re always there for us to call them.” Kromfli said she often gets compliments from visitors about the condition of her house.

“[The Heminsleys] said they would never lease a house that wasn’t in a condition fit enough for their own kids to live in,” she said. “So as far as standards go, that’s the highest.”

Kingston Mayor Mark Gerretsen was present at at the Golden Key ceremony on March 15.

“Celebrating the successes of landlords is really important,” said Gerretsen, who’s also a Kingston landlord. “Unfortunately, just like politicians, there are some bad apples that can spoil the bunch.”

But housing conditions are improving in the Queen’s area, the municipal affairs commissioner said, adding that the Golden Key will continue next year.

“It’s hard for Queen’s students to see sometimes, because we’re only here for approximately four years,” Sinkinson said. “It’s hard to see significant improvement. But certainly in my time, I’ve seen things get better.”

Joan Jones, the Queen’s Town-Gown Relations co-ordinator, said the most common conflicts between landlords and students stem from a lack of communication.

According to Jones, landlords aren’t legally obligated to address a property standards violation until a tenant complains.

“Students on the other hand, come from a different kind of experience,” she said. “At home, whoever you lived with noticed whether the tap was dripping or whether the furnace was making a funny sound.”

She said communication needs to start at the beginning.

“One of the key pieces is an incoming inspection,” she said. “Like you do in your res room when you look at what’s missing and what’s not functioning properly, you need to do that for every aspect of your house.” This informal inspection allows incoming tenants to identify problems and have them fixed over the summer. Jones said it’s essential that this occurs before moving in.

“You don’t do that initial communication, then all of the sudden you’re in the middle of schoolwork. And nobody has the time to do it. And pretty soon it’s January.” Jones said lack of communication is only one cause of negative landlord-tenant relationships.

“There is a power dynamic, and landlording is a business,” she said. “There are always going to be people who look for openings and vulnerabilities.” Tensions can also stem from the student culture, she said. “There still is an expectation in the Queen’s culture that everybody has some kind of crazy house story,” she said. “So whether it’s about something that happened between you and your landlord, or an act of God like the flood we had last year, having a story is still really important.”

Jones has been working for Town-Gown Relations since 1999. In her 13 years on the job, she remembers one house in particular. “There were actually mushrooms growing out of the floor,” she said. “I’m not talking mould or fungus. They were literally mushroom spores growing out of the corner of somebody’s room in their house.”

But she hasn’t seen a case like this in many years and says housing conditions are improving. There’s a right landlord out there for everybody, Jones said.

“You need to find the person with the communication style that is going to match yours, who’s going to be helpful in the ways you find are helpful, and who’s going to stay the heck away if you want them to stay away.”

With files from Vincent Matak

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