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Students yet to voice housing complaints to Quebec Human Rights Commission

by Jacqueline Di Bartolomeo March 1, 2011

International students who are victims of illegal housing practices remain silent instead of voicing their complaints, according to the Concordia Student Union Off-Campus Housing & Job Bank co-ordinator Leanne Ashworth. However, Ashworth as well as CSU Legal Information Clinic co-ordinator Walter Tom are now encouraging students to take their case to the Quebec Human Rights Commission, according to a press release from the Center for Research-Action on Race Relations.

The release said that the commission “is still waiting for students to come forward.”

“What [the commission] informed us of was that they would be looking only at individual cases […] so we’re still currently working with students to see if they want to do that,” said Ashworth. “However, many students are too worried to do that on their own.” That’s why last September HOJO and the legal clinic teamed up with CRARR, who are willing to represent students if they choose to take their complaints to the Commission.

The problems that plague international students remain largely unchanged; according to 30-year-old mature student Alia, who preferred not to give her last name, landlords take advantage of three factors with international student tenants. “It’s the time issue – because we can’t stay in hotels forever, it costs money,” she said. “The other thing is our ignorance, because we don’t know, and the third thing is we’re very easily fooled. If something looks decent we just think it’s decent.”

After moving to Montreal last year, Alia stayed at a hotel before signing a two-year contract at a building accross the street. The landlords asked for her social insurance number, made her pay a $4,000 deposit up front – enough for four months’ rent – and refused to fix the windows in her 30-year-old, unrenovated apartment.

Finally, Alia went to HOJO, where an employee took the time to explain the right way to deal with her landlords. She didn’t need to take her case to the Quebec Human Rights Commission since, once she made it clear she was aware of her rights, her landlords gave her no more grief.

However, she says she couldn’t have done it without the help of that employee at HOJO. “When we’re new in the country, the silliest, easiest things […] just seem very complicated to us. For some reason we have blocks towards that because we’re just new and we’re kind of scared,” she explained.

Ashworth acknowledged the sentiment, but also called out to the students to come forward: “If they have any questions, if they’re not happy where they’re renting, if they’re having problems with their landlords, [students] should come to talk to us.”

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