The theme of the Montreal Matters panel discussion was international students moving away from home to live and study in a foreign place. While many issues from housing to immigration papers and coop work/study programs were discussed, issues of rent increases for Loyola residence students cropped up again during the public forum held on the Hall Building mezzanine and moderated by Montreal CBC TV Canada Now anchor Dennis Trudeau last week.
During this past month, it was brought to the attention of the CSU that there may very well be an “illegal” rent increase well above the 1.4 per cent baseline increase allowed by the Quebec rental board for students living in residence at Loyola. The CSU council then voted on a motion to pay for legal representation and filling fees for students who wanted to file a complaint to the rental board.
Christina Xydous, co-ordinator of the CSU housing and job bank, put up posters and held information sessions last week where she helped students fill out a form to complain to the rental board before Nov. 1 if section G of their lease, where the previous year’s rent must be indicated, was not filled out by the university.
Xydous confronted Residence Life Manager Giuliana Panetta and Health Services and Residence Life Director Melanie Drew about the increase in rent and the mandatory Chartwells meal plan for residence students during the panel discussion but Drew said she didn’t feel the Montreal Matters panel was the appropriate forum to discuss the issue.
“We are talking about housing, moving away from home to study and I think it is a bit hypocritical to discuss these things without discussing how the university is treating its own students,” said Xydous during the panel discussion.
Xydous then outlined that in an internal memorandum sent to students in residence by Drew on Oct. 27, “the university seems to be trying to make a distinction between this supposed activity fee (which has gone up from $45 to $70 for an eight month period) and the rent itself…Rent in law is what’s on the lease. What’s on the lease clearly includes this activity fee that the university refers to.”
For her part, Drew explained that the activity fee to her knowledge was not a part of the rent. “The activity fee actually pays for parties, for example, Saturday there was a very successful Halloween party. So the $70 that is charged to each student is actually to pay for DJs, to pay for some of the refreshments that were served…”
Drew went on to say to Xydous that she did not understand why no one had contacted her before to talk about this. “I don’t think anyone ever made a phone call to me saying ‘Melanie, I’m very concerned about this.’ I don’t think that anyone came to Giuliana’s office. I find it a shame that this is being made in a public way without any attempt at some sort of understanding… I’ve certainly never told them (the students in residence) not to come and see you…I’m very forthcoming. I’m not trying to hide anything. I have nothing personal to gain from this.”
Xydous explained that she did not feel she was wrong in not speaking with the university because their inability to properly fill out students’ leases meant that they probably had something to hide or their knowledge of the law was limited, which doesn’t excuse them according to Xydous.
In a later interview with Xydous, she said she was “surprised at the inability of the two representatives from residence (Drew and Panetta) to answer any of the questions in any way at all.”
In a subsequent interview with Drew, she said she was taken off guard when Christina “attacked” them during the Montreal Matters panel. “I think that Christina in her mind thinks that the facts she has are absolutely clear but she wasn’t bothered to validate any of them,” emphasized Drew.
Drew explained that according to her understanding of the rental board’s 1.4 per cent baseline increase, “the REgie (rental board) will also allow other increases depending on whether there have been other renovations.”
According to Drew, “back in 1999, the previous director (Roger CUtE) had replaced all of the furniture within residence at a cost of $309,499. They had to get a loan from the university to buy it (the furniture) because we certainly didn’t have that in our operating budget because it’s a very low level operation.”
So, if you look at the difference in increase between 1.4 per cent and two per cent, which is what we’ve actually increased the rent by, it works out to be two dollars per student per month, so we’re talking about $16 per student times about 140 students, only comes to about $2000 so you can see that the increase doesn’t cover the cost of the replacement of the furniture.”
“We’re not only talking about illegal rent increases, we’re also talking about the imposing of a meal plan,” said Xydous. This Chartwells meal plan is a $1000 mandatory plan that students cannot opt out of if they want to live in residence.
Drew says the meal plan is mandatory because research has shown that the majority of students want a meal plan. The students cannot opt out of it because students don’t have any cooking facilities in residence. The students only have access to a toaster and a microwave to reheat their food, not to cook, she said.
In the end, Xydous said only four students have filled out a form to fight the rent increase.
Drew said the university will go to the rental board if it has to and “if the rental board decides that two per cent is too much than we will reimburse that two dollars per student per month.”