Sylvia Skoruch is a 4th-year student at UW who is leading the charge for acceptable and affordable housing for students in Waterloo.
Her motivation stems from her own experience this past summer when she felt she was mistreated by KW4Rent, a rental company that owns hundreds of units in the neighbourhood surrounding UW.
Skoruch says she signed a lease for a penthouse suite early in the summer.
But KW4Rent called her at the end of August and told her the room would no longer be available for rent, citing a need for repairs.
As a result, she cancelled her lease.
KW4Rent offered her other units for the same price, all of which she claims were not up to the standards of the original suite.
This left Skoruch scrambling without housing only a few days before the school term began.
She claims that KW4Rent later rented her original penthouse suite to another person, and when she called to inquire, a KW4Rent representative told her that they “discovered the place wasn’t as bad as they thought so they did a quick renovation and rented it out.”
To warn others about KW4Rent’s practices, Skoruch posted about her experience on the Facebook group “Student Housing in Waterloo,” a group with over 45,000 members that is used for buying, selling, and renting student properties in the Kitchener-Waterloo area.
The post went viral and led to many others sharing similar experiences on the page as well.
A student who wished to remain anonymous gave the Imprint an account of students living in KW4Rent units lacking stoves, hydro, beds, or working locks on doors, even though they were paying for fully furnished units.
Another student described a friend’s unit with bed bugs, which the rental agency was aware of but did not take action to rectify after weeks of notices.
“They were actually notified by KW4Rent about the bed bugs and that told (them) the issue would be dealt with before move-in day.
They moved in and it still had bed bugs so they had to stay at a hotel,” the student said.
Imprint was unable to independently verify these accounts Skoruch went on to create her own Facebook group, “Student Housing Crisis in Waterloo,” allowing students to post about their rental experiences and provide support for others going through similar situations.
The group has amassed over 1,000 members in less than 3 days since its creation.
Skoruch also told Imprint that she has been in contact with the office of Waterloo MPP Catherine Fife discussing possible courses of action.
Together they are in the process of compiling student testimonies to send to the Ontario Ministry of Municipal Affairs and Housing and are also exploring the presentation of a petition to Queen’s Park in regards to the unaffordable and inadequate student housing.
The state of student housing in Waterloo has become a hot topic this month thanks to Skoruch and a data breach at Accommod8u, another large rental agency in Waterloo. That leak revealed over 6,000 maintenance requests.
WUSA has also stepped up to take action, discussing the issue at their Students’ Council meeting on Sep. 14.
Among the topics discussed at the meeting was the formation of a committee on student housing in early October which would include affected students and other parties.
WUSA also plans to publish a report on student housing sometime in November, which will advise on any legal actions students or the association can take in response to the scandal.
Speaking to Imprint, WUSA Vice-President of Education Matthew Gerrits said that despite the wishes of many students, there would be no avenue for a class-action lawsuit through the Landlord and Tenant Board (LTB).
“We have been in touch with our lawyers to see whether students can pursue [a class-action lawsuitsuit] outside of the [LTB] and what their options are within it…as well as whether WUSA can pursue a lawsuit on their behalf,” Gerrit added.
Gerrit also urged students to be aware of their tenant rights and seek legal counsel if they felt they were being mistreated.
As the council meeting, Skoruch proposed the idea of a reserve fund for rent payments or a shelter for students in need of emergency housing, saying that many students have been sleeping in the SLC or friends’ couches due to a lack of suitable, available units.
WUSA was receptive to this suggestion and said they will explore the option in their report. While WUSA has been taking steps to help students, they have not been immune from criticism either.
During the welcome week carnival, the WUSA Instagram account posted an advertisement for a KW4Rent booth at the event, sparking an outcry on social media.
The post was brought up at the council meeting, to which a WUSA executive apologized but defended the team’s actions, saying that the advertising money—all of which has already been spent—was received prior to the scandal.
The executive also noted that WUSA set up a booth right next to KW4Rent’s to advise students about tenant rights.
The Kitchener-Waterloo Revolution Student Movement has also planned a rally at Waterloo City Hall on Sep. 23 to protest the practices of rental agencies and urge the city to take action.
More than 300 students have indicated their interest in the event on Facebook.
Skoruch is unsure whether she will speak at the rally as she is concentrated on her work with MPP Fife’s office, but urged students to take action. “Making a fuss and speaking up is what will cause these landlords to clean up their act,” she said. “I’m sick of this housing situation.”