When it comes to renting apartments downtown, international students face multiple forms of illegal discrimination at the hands of landlords according to a panel of Concordia Student Union organization representatives.
“First we want to bring to the public’s attention that international students are being exploited and subjected to predatory apartment rental practices by downtown landlords,” CSU president and panel member Heather Lucas said. “Secondly, we want to call on authorities to take action against these unscrupulous landlords.”
The panel gave a press conference at Concordia last week detailing the various forms of housing discrimination being experienced by some of the school’s approximately 4, 400 international students and their efforts to raise awareness in order to fight the problem.
“Predatory apartment rental practices are the best kept secret in Montreal,” said Leanne Ashworth, coordinator of the CSU’s Housing and Job Bank (HOJO). Ashworth spoke of the illegality of practices such as requiring students to make a deposit of two to six months rent, the collection of unnecessary private information, and illegal and non-refundable application fees for apartments; all of which she says are common to international students seeking housing, especially in the Ville-Marie borough.
“The number of complaints we are receiving at the housing and job bank have increased now to on average 15 cases a week this past month alone,” she said.
According to Andrea Clegg, a McGill social work intern at the Center for Research-Action on Race Relations, “these predatory apartment rental practices are occurring within a domestic and international context that clearly puts them in conflict with human rights legislation and human rights statements both here and abroad.” Clegg cited various articles of the Montreal charter of rights and responsibilities, the Quebec charter of human rights and freedoms, and the UN’s universal declaration of human rights that were being violated by some of the city’s landlords.
CRARR will thus be taking five steps in relation to predatory apartment rental practices, including helping student victims file complaints with Quebec’s Human Rights Commission and Rental Board, asking the Quebec Human Rights and Youth Rights Commission to launch an inquiry into the problem and pressuring city housing inspectors to enforce standards more strictly.
For its part, HOJO has been making a concise effort to educate international students as to what landlords are legally allowed to ask of them. “They need your name, your addresses and your date of birth to do a credit check on you,” Ashworth said. “If you’re coming outside of Canada the information they need is to prove that you are able to pay the rent. A photocopy of your passport does not prove that.”
She added that anyone can file with the RÃ©gie du logement to re-obtain illegal deposits or to have their apartments repaired by landlords. “We want students coming to Montreal to know their housing rights and to know if something goes wrong there are recourses available.”
HOJO has also been keeping records on “predatory housing and landlords” which Ashworth said they would be willing to submit if an inquiry were to occur.
Even with all the services available, the panel expressed concern that many students would not come forward or complain because they may be afraid to find themselves without any form of housing. CSU Legal Information Clinic Coordinator Walter Tom even expressed concern in the perception these students’ have of their own position in regards to the law.
“Many of the people coming in, they don’t know their rights,” he said. “And for them to even come in it’s almost like they think “we’re here on a temporary basis, we don’t have rights necessarily.’ “
Lucas is a testament to the fact that you can benefit from seeking help, however. She described her own experience with housing discrimination as an American student seeking housing in Montreal. When landlords told her she needed to bring her passport, study permit, driver’s licence and even her father’s work permit for them to photocopy, and told her that since she had no Canadian co-signer they would need rent for two months before she would even be moving in, Lucas said she felt something was wrong.
“This whole scenario seemed sketchy so before I signed the lease I went to the Housing and Job bank to see what my rights were,” Lucas recalled. “Without them I would have not only given up all of my confidential information, but I would be living in an apartment that didn’t respect basic rights.”
Lucas added that after consulting HOJO she sent a complaint letter to landlords who had previously refused to return photocopies of her documentation and managed to retrieve them all.
If more students follow the course of Lucas and not only seek to educate themselves but spread their knowledge onto others, Ashworth is confident that HOJO can expand its impact beyond Concordia.
“We want to change the culture that’s going on with rental of apartments downtown, encourage people to stand up for their rights,” she said. “That’s our goal it has to go bigger than student to landlord, that’s why we have to get other people involved.”