Following months of hearings, the Landlord and Tenant Board has determined that Schembri Property Management, the company behind the construction of the One Columbia building, will have to pay a settlement to former tenant and UW student Tyler McFall.</p>
The board ruled that UW McFall should receive a total of $1928.86 from Schembri as compensation for the distress he faced as a result of delays in the construction of One Columbia.
According to Alex Diceanu, the outreach and resource centre co-ordinator at WPIRG, it is possible that McFall may not receive his payment immediately as Schembri may choose to appeal the ruling. Since the board only has limited authority in enforcing their rulings, McFall’s next best option would be to go to the small claims court to enforce payment.
“The board can levy fines to pressure the landlord to pay. You basically rely on the landlord agreeing to pay on the ruling or you have to go to small claims court and have the ruling enforced there,” Diceanu said.
Regarding the turnout of McFall’s case, One Columbia’s Property Manager Rosiel Tang had little to say except to express her disappointment and re-emphasize the previous means Schembri has taken to compensate the affected students.
“We don’t have any further comment on the Tyler McFall case — it was a disappointing outcome. Throughout this process, we did everything we could to ensure the students impacted by the delay had accommodations and were well taken care of while we pushed our subtrades to work to finish construction as quickly as possible. In addition to free hotels, we offered free food, laundry service, transportation, gift cards, televisions, and discounted rent to help ease the impact of what were unforeseen circumstances. A majority of the tenants at One Columbia accepted these alternate arrangements until they were able to move in,” said Tang.
Last September, the student tenants of One Columbia were notified that their apartments were still under construction and that the building, at the time, was not fit for residents. Since then, over 60 students, like McFall, have pursued legal action as Schembri refused to excuse them from their leases. Of those, 53 students were supported by WPIRG, and five of those cases are currently before the Landlord and Tenant Board as of May 28.
Since that meeting, “We resolved four out of the six remaining files and still need to do the closing submissions on the remaining two,” said Joseph Richards, the legal representative from Waterloo Region Community Legal Services, who has been assisting the students supported by WPIRG.
Aaron Crose, another previous tenant of One Columbia was also present at Thursday’s hearing. He had been studying in his second year of psychology at UW, but had to drop out after failing his midterms. Crose claimed that he had been exhausted by his ordeal with Schembri.
“It is heartbreaking to hear that one of the students involved has dropped out as a result of the upheaval all of this has caused. But we know he is not alone,” said Diceanu. He later added, “Students and other members of the campus community need to defend [them] and push back. The fight against Schembri shows that we can win.”
Van Huisstede’s — part of Schembri’s legal team — website has published a notice saying that their practise is “no longer accepting clients and will no longer be operating effective June 1, 2015.” The repercussions of this delay have yet to be determined as Schembri may seek new legal representation.