Schembri saga hits new low

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In the latest chapter of the Columbia One fiasco, Schembri is now allegedly withholding keys from tenants unless they agree to sign a release of legal claims form. In some cases, the housing company has allegedly called the police to forcefully remove students off the property.


“[Students] told me that keys are being withheld before they can enter their unit, unless they can sign some sort of document stating that they’re willing to accept one month free laundry as reasonable compensation,” said Olivia Choi, off-campus student housing assistant.


Choi recommends students do not sign any form unless under duress, or if they believe the compensation Schembri is offering is a “fair trade-off.”


The last clause in the form is the one that has students who’ve been inconvenienced by the Columbia One situation concerned.


The clause states, “By signing a copy of this letter, you acknowledge acceptance of our offer to provide you with a different unit which is available for immediate occupancy and that you are satisfied with all the compensation that you have received as a result of delayed occupancy.”


Maaz Yasin, Feds’ VP internal, said he’s heard cases of students being removed by police from Columbia One property.


Yasin said a Laurier student, who was told he can finally move into his unit, was provided this form to sign before occupancy. As a condition to receive the keys, he had to sign the form.


After reading the form, the student did not want to sign it because of the final clause acknowledging that he is satisfied with the compensation that Schembri has provided due to delayed occupancy.


“Obviously students moving in at this point are not completely satisfied … They’re living in a building still under construction ... a lot of the amenities promised to them in the lease agreement are not ready,” Yasin said. “Schembri wants them to sign this form in order to get the keys to the apartment that they’ve already paid and signed a lease for. The legality of that, I’m not sure about, and in the case of this particular Laurier student, he was not allowed to get the keys; and, after trying to convince them otherwise, police were called, and he was forced to leave the property.”


Alex Diceneau, WPIRG co-ordinator of outreach and research centre, said these forms don’t have any legal ground when brought to the Landlord Tenants Board. However, he does admit it could have legal implications for tenants in small claims court, delegitimizing legal claims made thus far.


Diceneau says what Schembri is doing is completely illegal.


<em>Imprint</em> attempted to contact some students being coerced by Schembri to sign this form in exchange for their keys, but students were too afraid to get kicked-out of their places if they were to speak publicly.


However, a mother of a second-year UW student, Mrs. Bartley, contacted <em>Imprint</em> to confirm the latest allegations against Schembri. Bartley asked that her first name or her son&rsquo;s name not be used.


Her son, who was previously living at a Best Western by Fairview Mall in Kitchener, has now taken occupancy at Columbia One residences. The unit he&rsquo;s in now is different from the unit he was promised when he signed the lease. Before moving in, he was also forced to sign the form stating he was &ldquo;satisfied&rdquo; with Schembri&rsquo;s compensation.


Bartley was present for the signing, where she recorded the conversation with a Schembri representative.


In the audio recording, Bartley asked, &ldquo;Has anybody not signed it?&rdquo;


In response, a female Schembri representative says, &ldquo;They choose not to, then they have to.&rdquo;


&ldquo;It&rsquo;s coercion,&rdquo; Bartley said. &ldquo;I wanted to go to the police station. As far as I&rsquo;m concerned, it&rsquo;s not a landlord-tenant problem. I believe it&rsquo;s criminal. I believe that&rsquo;s fraud.


&ldquo;I want to go to the police station and try to lay a criminal charge on them,&rdquo; she added.


Bartley also touched upon what Yasin said about the lack of quality when it came to amenities: &ldquo;Those rooms are as bare bones as possible, the beds are as cheap as possible&hellip; I wanted to get the <em>CTV</em> crews here, bring them up to the eighth floor, and show them, show them what these kids were supposed to get and what they got.&rdquo;


Bartley said she is &ldquo;terrified&rdquo; at the thought of Schembri &ldquo;taking it out&rdquo; on her son if they find out she spoke publicly on the matter.


Schembri declined to comment when <em>Imprint</em> contacted them on the matter.


Students who attended Feds&rsquo; AGM Oct. 22 stood in solidarity with students affected by the Columbia One fiasco. WPIRG provided them with orange sheets that read, &ldquo;Won&rsquo;t rent Schembri.&rdquo;
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