Walking into Markus Pearson’s house last year was an unpleasant experience.
It was dark, damp and in bad condition. The walls and floorboards were covered in mould, and cold air seeped through the old windows. The third-year St. Thomas University student and four other students were paying $1,600 a month to live in that place.
Bad landlords and run-down, overpriced housing is a real issue for some Fredericton students, who appear to have found a champion in Mayor Brad Woodside.
“I will make this a public issue. I’ll be quite relentless in pursuing them.”
While Woodside admits housing is a long-standing issue, it was a University of New Brunswick student that sparked his involvement.
Woodside was giving a lecture to a law class in February when someone brought up housing during a question-and-answer period, sparking numerous students to follow suit.
Now Woodside has taken to Twitter to research the issue.
He’s asking students to let him know their stories and if he has to, he’s looking to take on bad landlords by himself.
“If it’s a matter of health, I’ll go as far as I have to,” said Woodside.
A matter of health is exactly what it was for Pearson. He had a sinus infection for four months.
“I know it was from the house. I’ve never been sick like that before. Since I’ve moved out, I haven’t been sick once.”
Pearson said students are taken advantage of by some landlords.
“It’s hard to find nice houses close to campus so they pretty much charge whatever they want for shit houses.”
Pearson’s requests for repairs weren’t often answered by his landlord.
“We couldn’t do much to talk to the landlord. He really wasn’t around much and didn’t give us many numbers to call.”
STU student advocate Jono House said students with landlord troubles come to him. While he has never dealt with housing-quality issues, he has seen many landlords try to scam money from students – particularly damage deposits.
“One of the ways landlords can make an extra buck is by squeezing the damage deposit.”
He said the students’ union has made a push on this issue lately.
Early in the school year, they held a workshop that dealt with tenancy rights where students could ask questions. The local rentalsman attended the event.
“It went well enough that we are looking to do another one.”
House said this will most likely be near the end of March.
A spokesperson at the provincial Office of the Rentalsman downplayed the problem.
“I would not consider the problem to be widespread or an epidemic in the Fredericton area,” said Stephanie Despres, the regional manager for the office.
She said there are already many laws and regulations in place for landlords.
“If I were to make any recommendation it would be for landlords and tenants to take the time to get informed because that is the best way to protect oneself.”
Despite systems in place to enforce tenancy rights, students still fall into bad living situations because for many, it’s their first time renting.
“In most cases they will need to have tried to help themselves before we can get involved in assisting to resolve a [situation],” said Despres.
But Woodside sees it differently – the way of dealing with it now is not working.
“Just because it’s an old problem, doesn’t mean there isn’t new ways of approaching it.”
The problem reflects badly on Fredericton, the mayor said, especially since “we are hosting kids from other parts of Canada and the world.”
Woodside said his new mission is in its early stages and solutions have yet to be worked out. He hasn’t yet brought anything official to the council table in the form of new bylaws.
He also hasn’t been in contact with the universities about the problem, but plans to be.
Woodside said he will do everything in his power to make bad landlords accountable. This includes forcing them to undergo inspections.
And he’s not afraid to call out a bad landlord anytime.
“I have a big mouth. Let me know where it is [a bad house] and I’ll expose them.”