Approximately 50 UW students involved in the 1 Columbia Street dispute joined forces with Waterloo Public Interest Research Group (WPIRG) and marched on the Schembri offices Sept. 19, to state their demands.
The building, which was supposed to be ready for move in Sept. 4, remains unfinished. Schembri offered altenative housing solutions to the tenants, but many students have chosen not to take them. WPIRG has been working with students to make them aware of their rights and help them co-ordinate their actions. Alex Diceanu, WPIRG co-ordinator of outreach and research centre, spoke to <em>Imprint </em>about the march. “I think today went excellent; there were a lot of students who came out who are tenants of 1 Columbia, and I think just as many supporters. We’ve given them three business days to do the right thing and return their deposits. If not we will be taking further actions besides going to the tenant board,” Diceanu said. The deadline given to Schembri was the evening of Sept. 24, and as of 11:59 p.m. Schembri had made no response. Diceanu outlined the next steps following Schembri’s refusal to comply with the demands. “First, we will file with the tenant board, so Schembri will be getting a notice about that. We are having a legal clinic Wednesday night. From there … we will pursue further public actions. We will not say right now what they are; we are still in the process of deciding, but we have some pretty interesting options on how we can continue to put pressure on Schembri.” Maaz Yasin, Feds VP Internal was also present at the march. “One of the things we’re trying to do is work with off-campus housing … they have the experience to deal with this stuff. “What is happening now seems very unfair for students … we are going to be supporting them as long as the situation continues,” Yasin said. Feds VP Education Stephane Hamade said, “We are against what Schembri is doing to students, and I think we showed that at the last council meeting.” During the meeting, which was held Sept. 21, Feds discussed the situation. A motion was passed to halt any further business between Feds and Schembri until the situation has been resolved, and asked that the members of the exec write an open letter to Schembri. “We chose to take a lease instead of taking the hotels [because] they provided no information to us [when we] went to the Schembri building and asked them about some of the hotels and some of the things they were providing and … [they] would not give us detailed information,” said UW second-year student Benjamin Zhao. His roommate, Timmy Cheng added, “We were told not to sign two leases, but as school approached, we really didn’t have any choice. The hotel option just wasn’t a choice, it was three people in one room, and you can’t take a shuttle bus every single day.” Other students who did sign on with the hotels that Schembri offered have not been satisfied with the living conditions. “I checked into the hotel, they made me sign a waiver that I accepted the alternative accommodations but it didn’t specify when they’d be ready. And after checking into the hotel, I realized that the commute to school was ridiculous; by car it was like 25 minutes and on top of that living out of a hotel for weeks now was completely unfair,” said UW student Arjun Gnana. WPIRG has expressed their confidence that, if the courts are involved, they will succeed. “That is their legal right to get their deposits back and they should not have to be worried about it,” Diceanu said.“We’ve been told that students have the right to walk away if the landlord does not provide them with vacant possession of the unit on the agreed upon date. There should not be any extra costs associated from walking away from Schembri.” “We’re pretty confident; we’ve gone through a few workshops with a few lawyers in the area and they said that we’re pretty strong on this,” Cheng said. WPIRG will be continuing to work with all the affected students in an attempt to break the leases and recover lost funds.