Editorial

Whose student housing plan is better?

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The decisions giving rise to #iamastudent (though, as an external observer, it is unclear to me whether this continues to have any meaningful momentum) include both the tuition increase to international students and the significant increase in student housing pricing. ¬†Unfortunately the 20% increase in student housing fees was often forgotten alongside the perennially sexier tuition debate. Under the BC Residential Tenancy Act (“RTA“), rental increases are capped in 2015 at 2.5% so why is there such a disparity?

The answer comes in the kind of legal relationship residents have with Student Housing and Hospitality Services (“SHHS”): the RTA explicitly excludes university residences from its protection. Whether or not to include university residences within the RTA was actually the dominant subject of an election in 2000. The RTA gives a number of protections including rights about landlord entry, rights about ending a contract, and rental increases.

Right now there are five candidates running for AMS executive positions with a role in policy and only two are talking about housing regulation: Cheneil Antony-Hale (President) and Jude Crasta (VP External). Antony-Hale wants a separate act and Crasta wants to include student housing within the RTA.

In my opinion, Antony-Hale’s plan for student housing is both a needed change and properly thought through. The RTA is simply inappropriate for student housing in its current form, and there are good policy reasons for not including student housing within the scheme. For example 1) you would not be able to make housing contingent on taking classes, 2) you couldn’t move residents who are not getting along with their roommates, 3) UBC could increase rent however much it desired as soon as a resident moved out of a unit, undermining price stability – one of the principal benefits of the RTA, and 4) the right to exclusive possession and quiet enjoyment of a unit is simply impossible in shared accommodation or where you have two strangers living in the same room, which is why the RTA also does not apply to living arrangements where you share a bathroom or kitchen with your landlord.

However, there are some protections that ought to be considered and could constitute the basic elements of a Student Tenancy Act governing a relationship with SHHS as a whole, rather than your individual unit:

  • a capped schedule of rental increases based on the day you enter into a relationship with SHHS, so if you started at UBC in September 2014 and began living in Totem Park, in 2016 you could rent a place in Gage based on the 2014 price plus two years at 2.5%.
  • the right to 24 hours notice before a university employee can enter a unit over which you have exclusive control.
  • the right to no increase in rent within an academic year, regardless of whether you have moved to a more expensive unit.
  • the right to a room provided you continue to be a registered student.
  • and the right to appeal any application of the contract or the RTA to the Residential Tenancy Board.

There are probably individual concerns with each of these ideas or concerns about what is not included, but I’ve drafted them here to start a conversation. The purpose of a contract is to provide a stable, legal framework for a relationship between two parties. If it is a good contract, there is roughly an equal number of rights and responsibilities and under the RTA there are protections to ensure such a relationship is fair. Right now, students have no such protection.

This needs to change and is an aggressive but achievable goal. There is no internal reason for government to say no, other than to avoid pissing off colleges and universities, and I struggle to see a significant constituency that would be opposed to such a plan. Kudos to Antony-Hale for understanding the issues, and kudos to Crasta for identifying the need to change. Hopefully this is a topic that the new executive can work on together.

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