Housing services allegedly denied student’s request to terminate lease

On Thursday, March 2, Dev Thain, a graduate student at the University of Ottawa, sent an email to the Fulcrum entitled “University Students Do NOT have standard renter’s rights,” discussing his rental agreement with U of O Housing Services.

The main issue highlighted by Thain was the black mould present in his Brooks residence apartment, which, according to Thain, has not yet been addressed or removed.

In his initial email, Thain wrote, “I tried to break the lease since residence services have abnegated their responsibilities; however, I was surprised to learn that the University Residences are not subjects to the ‘Ontario landlord tenant act’ or the ‘Residential Tenancies Act’.”

According to Thain, the U of O has a private contract with students living in residence, but ultimately these students are not subject to typical provincial landlord-tenant acts.

With that in mind, Thain says “The U of O Housing Services has considerable power over their renters, and the renters have very little recourse against the landlord.”

He further explained that terminating his residential agreement is up to the discretion of Rachelle Clark, director of Housing Services, who allegedly denied his initial request.

In a March 9 interview with the Fulcrum, Clark said that “most educational institutions are exempt from the Residential Tenancies Act,” and that Housing Services’ contract guarantees students special services such as security.
“Our students still have rights outlined in the residence agreement,” Clark said. Thain explained that he “divulged a very intimate part of his medical record to Clark … in the hopes that it would allow (him) to cancel the terms of (his) lease as the mold and general living conditions are exacerbating and perhaps even causing certain medical issues.”

Clark allegedly gave Thain the sole option of moving to another unit and signing another 12-month lease. However, Thain ultimately declined this due to the conflicts moving would cause in his busy schedule.

“I do know a number of different students and alumni who have expressed similar and even more horrifying stories,” Thain wrote in a subsequent email to the Fulcrum. “Consequently, I have contacted student advocacy groups and City officials, including the mayor, and I hope that I can continue the conversation with them.”

According to Clark, “one of the important messages is that the U of O is committed to establishing and maintaining a safe environment in all housing buildings.” She then explained that a contractor entered Thain’s unit on March 6 to assess the situation, and that the mould was removed on March 7.
Clark further said that Thain’s claims that she had the discretion to terminate his lease are “not entirely accurate,” and that an emergency room was offered to Thain following his initial complaint. To raise awareness of this problem, Thain will be gathering other stories from the student body to address the issue as a collective.

“It seems like a petty disagreement between renter and landlord that got out of hand, but honestly feels like a lot more than that,” wrote Thain.

“There exists a horrible power relationship, and I feel like a lot of first years will continue to be screwed over and residence services seem quite ambivalent.”