Open Season on International Students

Complaints Against Predatory Landlords are Rising

Walter Tom, coordinator of Concordia’s legal clinic, says landlords are breaking the law. Photo Christopher Curtis

Faced with a strange city, a new language and unique laws, Concordia’s international students are falling victim to harassment and exploitation from landlords.

According to Concordia’s Housing and Job Office—which saw complaints from international students against landlords rise to 15 per week last month—landlords are coercing tenants into paying illegal application fees, months of over-priced rent in advance and providing private information.

Students have testified that these landlords, mainly located in the Ville Marie borough, treat them with negligence bordering on harassment, refuse to make repairs to their apartments, require that their co-signer be of Canadian origin and fail to provide adequate security within the apartments.

“Things are being asked, of international students, which are clearly prohibited by the law,” said Walter Tom, coordinator of Concordia’s legal information clinic. “International students should have access to the same rights as any other citizen of Canada, especially since these students are entering this society as consumers who are putting so much money into our institutions.”

The Center for Research-Action on Race Relations, along with the Concordia Student Union, have sent a letter to Gaetan Cousineau, president of Quebec’s human rights commission, demanding that an inquiry be opened into the illegal practices of certain landlords.

“We want them to take notice of this issue. We want to open an inquiry as to what is going on down here with the systemic problems in the downtown burrows that are affecting international students,” said Leanne Ashworth, coordinator for HOJO.

“If [international students] can’t even rent an apartment without having to give their passport information, then why should we keep encouraging them to come here?” said CSU President Heather Lucas.

Thus far, however, there have been no reported cases of landlords using personal information illegally.

HOJO will be providing the government with a list of landlords whom they have discovered are infringing on student rights. Most international students, however, are usually back in their country of origin by the time the Régie des logements gets around to having their illegal application fees and deposits reimbursed.

These practices violate the right to equality without discrimination, as described in Quebec’s Charter of Human Rights and Freedoms. However, said Ashworth, many students are still suffering silently.

“We will talk to any student about what is happening in their apartment, encourage them to take recourse and explain to them how to do that,” said Ashworth.

This article originally appeared in Volume 31, Issue 04, published September 7, 2010.