Queen’s Backing Action on Climate Change (QBACC) has created a tool that students can use to advocate for improved living conditions. In less than two weeks, the initiative has detected more than 1,500 bylaw violations in the University District.
QBACC’s Home Project(link is external) is an online assessment tool that takes a student through their rental unit room by room, asking a series of questions. Cross-referenced with the City of Kingston bylaws, the tool generates a personalized report summarizing the issues in the student’s unit.
“Student housing is decrepit,” Nick Lorraway, ArtSci ’21 and QBACC co-president, said in an interview with The Journal. “It’s falling apart. Landlords are making off with massive amounts of money while doing absolutely nothing to maintain the units.”
Lorraway added that improper maintenance of student houses leads to students paying more than necessary in utility bills, stemming from issues like leaky windows. QBACC is encouraging students to take their generated reports to their landlords and request improvements.
“We’re trying to help people and empower them to better their situations and hold their landlords to account for what they are legally entitled to, which is a minimum standard of housing,” Lorraway said.
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The tool was launched last Monday, after being developed through the summer and the fall semester. As of Wednesday, the tool had seen 292 submissions and 100 fully completed assessments.
To generate their report, a student has to enter their location, rent, and the name of their landlord. If they provide this information, they submit a fully completed assessment; if they just answer the survey questions, it counts as a partial submission.
Natalie Woodland, ArtSci ’21, QBACC special projects director, said she expects the number of fully completed assessments to increase as more students return to Kingston.
“It’s going great so far,” Woodland told The Journal. “The turnout in this short of a time has been truly amazing.”
The tool had also detected 1,680 total bylaw violations as of Wednesday. If one includes possible bylaw violations, or instances when students answered “unsure” to the survey questions, this number increases to 2,454.
On average, the tool detected about 16 bylaw violations per house. Woodland called these numbers “concerning” and “ridiculous.”
According to the assessment tool, two of the most common issues in the University District are drafts created by old doors and windows and improper exterior lighting—Kingston bylaws require all houses to have well-lit front walkways.
“That’s a huge safety concern, so seeing that is pretty scary,” Woodland said.
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The project started when Woodland researched the bylaws and compared them to conditions in her own student house. After discovering her house wasn’t up to code, she decided to create an assessment tool.
“I think there’s just a greater need for students to come to understand what they deserve, what is actually in their rights,” she said.
“This isn’t you being fussy […] this is dictated by the law, that this is the minimum standard for living, and that is what we’re trying to obtain for students. Because right now, you are paying an exorbitant amount of rent and you’re not getting that.”
QBACC is hoping to expand this service to other cities and towns throughout Ontario to help students elsewhere.
The club also plans to create a list of common issues in student units and determine what the average student rent is in Kingston so it can advocate Queen’s and the City of Kingston for more equity across student housing.
“This is a cost on students, and this impacts students’ academic performance, so it’s in Queen’s best interest to make sure that student housing is actually livable,” Lorraway said. “I don’t know if you put some of these administration people in these houses if they’d last for all that long.”
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