Last December, fourth-year student Manuel Kissoczy decided that he wanted to take a semester off from studying at UBC to work in Switzerland. Kissoczy, an international relations major who was living in Marine Drive residence at the time, decided to try to sublet his spot in residence to another UBC student while he was away.
Kissoczy had subleased during the summer semester before, so he contacted his residence life manager thinking that it would be a non-issue.
“The first time [that I subleased], I didn’t actually have to meet with anyone. [This time], to get approved, I had to meet with the residence life manager twice and email back and forth, and it was just a really big issue apparently,” said Kissoczy. “They said they would get back to me within the week, but it took them two weeks to respond.”
That response, which Kissoczy received on December 18 — two days before his flight out of Vancouver — was an email informing him that because he would not be registered in any courses the following term, he was no longer eligible to live in student housing and that he would need to cancel his contract. Although Kissoczy had moved out December 20 regardless due to his flight, he was informed in a subsequent email that he had to move out by “no later than the end of term 1,” December 23 — which would have given him five days notice. Kissoczy was also charged a $300 cancellation fee, reduced from the usual 25 per cent of full contract fees for students who cancel their residential housing.
Andrew Parr, the managing director of Student Housing and Hospitality Services (SHHS), declined to comment specifically on Kissoczy’s case.
Parr wrote in an emailed statement to The Ubyssey that “in general, a resident of UBC student housing must be a bona fide student of UBC.” He also wrote that “when [someone’s] student status ends, they are required to leave residence within a reasonable time in order to open up the space for another active student.”
While SHHS’s response in Kissoczy’s case was consistent with their practices and the contract that Kissoczy signed, it was only legal due to a loophole in provincial legislation. BC’s Residential Tenancy Act (RTA), which guarantees certain housing rights for tenants in the province such as effective notice for entry and eviction, restrictions on rent increases and freedom from unreasonable disturbance, does not apply to students living in university housing and as such, these students are not guaranteed these rights.
If the RTA had applied in Kissoczy’s case, he could not have been forced to cancel his contract due to his student status, as the act forbids discrimination based on these grounds. Even if this clause in the Act no longer applied and Kissoczy would have to move out due to his eligibility, the Act also states that when tenants no longer qualify for a rental unit, “a notice under this section must end the tenancy on a date that is not earlier than two months after the date the notice is delivered.” With that clause in place, Kissoczy would have had until February 18 to move out under this act.
Kissoczy’s situation isn’t the only one in which the university has come under fire for not guaranteeing students the housing rights afforded to most under the Residential Tenancy Act.
When the west building of Ponderosa Commons opened in September 2013, residents of the building were upset over the state of the residence, with many asking for financial compensation for excessive construction noise, flooding, lack of services and problems with the elevators, among other concerns. At the time, Parr acknowledged the issues that the residents experienced, but SHHS did not provide financial compensation for the majority.
Students complained that construction workers had been showing up at their doors without advance notice and even entering students’ rooms without permission. This would have been in direct violation of the RTA, as the Act states that landlords must give at least 24 hours written notice before entering a unit. SHHS did, however, financially compensate students living in Ponderosa whose units were flooded, and provided them with alternate housing while their units were under repair.
While there are many merits to having the RTA apply to students, according to Parr, there is some reasoning as to why this Act would not be suitable for student housing.
“If we were part of the RTA in its current whole language, we would not be able to only have students reside here. Someone could move in with us, could graduate and stay on with us — and not be a student, and take up a space that otherwise is built and delivered for the purpose of student use,” said Parr.
The other reason that Parr cited was the complexity and length of the dispute resolution process used in the RTA.
“It’s an incredibly arduous process … not just for the landlord or for in this case, UBC, but incredibly arduous for a student,” said Parr. “These appeal processes sometimes take one or two years, so they would extend beyond the current contract period, they would take up a huge amount of the student’s time and really not be an effective way to address some of the standards and situations that arise in residence.
“And that would be unhealthy for our community, I think, and it would also be unattainable or ineffective for students pursuing an appeals process.”
Kathleen Simpson, the VP External of the AMS, says that the SHHS’s appeal process is inadequate.
“Unfortunately, [students] don’t have a lot of rights,” said Simpson. “They could potentially make a case to the Ombudsperson that procedural fairness has not been followed, but that doesn’t mean that the university doesn’t have the ultimate right to evict them.”
Parr, however, disagrees.
“We have a robust appeals process in place — it’s arm’s length, and it allows students who are feeling disenfranchised or feel like we haven’t provided the right conclusions to an investigation to apply for an appeal and to work through that appeal process,” said Parr. “It is a very transparent process, it’s an open process … In its current form, [the appeal process] is effective, quick and responsive to students’ needs.”
The AMS, which is currently lobbying the government for a separate RTA-like act for those in student housing, did acknowledge that the RTA would probably not work well in a university housing setting.
“We don’t necessarily see the RTA as being a good fit because it is not particularly made for students and the particularity of student housing,” said Simpson. “But we think that that doesn’t mean that students are not entitled to the same protection that the RTA gives every other renter in the province.”
The Residence Hall Association (RHA), “an organization of elected students that represent all residents living on campus,” has decided not to support the AMS’s lobbying campaign, saying that they instead want to take on an educational role in the campaign.
“We want to support the AMS under a different capacity in that we could perhaps educate students and sort of mobilize the student body by letting them know what’s going on, inspiring them to think critically,” said Avery Wong, president of the RHA.
In an email to the AMS, however, the RHA cited concerns about continued collaboration with SHHS as justification for not participating in the campaign, instead choosing to maintain their good relationship with the SHHS. “The RHA has a very close relationship with [SHHS] and as such, a lot of our residents trust housing and they feel that if we were able to talk to them, that would be one way of setting about change,” said Wong on the decision. “I understand that laws are a very great way to keep people accountable … but the RHA as a whole has always been an organization that chooses to work with housing, because we feel that maintaining a long-term relationship with housing would build trust, which is sort of why they consult us.”
At the time of the interview, Wong then said that SHHS had not yet told him their position on the lobbying campaign in order to give the RHA an opportunity to make their own decision.
Parr, however, emphasized that while he is not in agreement with some of the aspects of the AMS’s campaign, he is not opposed to it as a whole.
“I do not begrudge the AMS at all,” said Parr. “It’s their right, and I really support the fact that they’re working with other schools and presenting a case that’s important to them to the province. And I would — I support the process they are undertaking. I guess where my support isn’t as great is in some of the recommendations.”
While Kissoczy didn’t comment on the proposed new Act, he did say that the situation and lack of rules at UBC left him confused and unsure of what his rights were.
“I checked the rules about housing … There’s no UBC Tenancy Act — there’s only guidelines and the contract,” said Kissoczy.
Simpson also elaborated that while the majority of students don’t experience problems with SHHS, the lack of legislation makes students unsure of what rights they have, and gives UBC too much leeway in the rights they grant students.
“UBC says that they do their best to follow best practices, but that doesn’t mean that they are not able, if they wanted to, to evict people with very short turn around,” said Simpson. “A lot of students may not even realize that the RTA doesn’t apply to them, and really one of the goals of our campaign is to inform students about what rights they can expect and what other rights we can ask for together.”