Tenants: know your rights or risk them

The importance of educating yourself on your legal options

Young people are often vulnerable to exploitation by landlords, warns Arththy Valluvan.
Young people are often vulnerable to exploitation by landlords, warns Arththy Valluvan.

When I decided to come to Queen’s, people were quick to tell me how difficult the transition would be. 

“No one is going to hold your hand anymore,” they told me. Again and again. 

It wasn’t until second year that I realized it wasn’t enough to know how to do laundry and feed myself I had to know my legal rights as a tenant to prevent landlords from taking advantage of me. When students fail to educate themselves about these matters they end up enabling their own mistreatment. 

Living in residence in first year allowed me to continue leading a life of dependency — almost everything was done for me. Then I signed a lease for a four-bedroom apartment with three friends. 

The building wasn’t completed when I signed. Disregarding my parents’ concerns, I was adamant and excited to make the decision for myself. 

The summer before moving in, things got complicated. 

Because the building was unfinished, everything was tentative, with progress dependent on a variety of factors and a vague, projected plan. General questions, like when I could move in, went unanswered. 

Even after I moved in, the building wasn’t finished and many apartments weren’t ready for tenants. 

Throughout the first half of the year, ventilation issues in the apartment, workers coming in and out with little warning, poor scheduling, and waking up to daily construction were all things tenants had to deal with. 

Attempting to discuss the issues with management often proved frustrating, as they were incredibly hard to deal with and unapproachable. 

Whenever I brought concerns up with my landlord, I wasn’t taken seriously. Because I was young, they assumed placating me would tide me over.

To a certain extent, they were right.

I wanted to look into legal action, but failed to go through with it. I wasn’t sure I had the grounds to make a case or the resources to consult professional, legal help. However, I now realize that I had more options, and there were resources I could have contacted through the Queen’s Student Community Relations Office. 

Young people are often overlooked and taken advantage of because of their age and lack of authority. But if this year taught me anything, it’s that I, like many tenants, was part of the problem.

I may not have caused the issue, or started a dispute with my landlord, but the fact that I wasn’t prepared to deal with problems left me vulnerable, making me a contributing factor.

The best way to confront my issues would’ve been to first educate myself about the laws and organizations that existed to protect tenants. I would’ve been able to assert myself and argue my case more thoroughly.

The situation is much like any other sort of investment. People who run a business focus on their own interests, and it’s up to investors to do their research and understand where they’re putting their money. 

When a company hides something and acts unethically or illegally, it’s up to investors to know their options and take appropriate action to rectify the problem. 

Landlords build their leases and contracts in ways that benefits themselves. However, some of their rules and regulations are negotiable and less concrete than they seem, because they’re unenforceable under Ontario law. It’s important to know information like this because it helps students understand what they can advocate for and what’s legally permissible under the law. 

Students should also look into the Residential Tenancies Act established through Ontario’s Ministry of Municipal Affairs and Housing to thoroughly understand what they’re doing when signing a lease. 

Queen’s also has a section on its website under “Student Affairs” titled “leases and landlords” that directs students to resources and tips to consider when they experience issues with their landlords.

The most important thing to do is address the concerns that arise and avoid complacency — even if responses can be discouraging. Letting discouragement silence you is tempting, but it also guarantees defeat. 

Like many people in positions of power, some landlords will try to keep the upper hand over young people. 

When you decide to live on your own, you also sign up to handle difficult situations, which requires knowing your rights. After all, no one is going to hold your hand anymore.

Arththy Valluvan is a second-year English major.

 

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