News / Canada

Highrise construction delay leaves Waterloo students scrambling for housing

WATERLOO — University of Waterloo student Mitchell Snaith flew in from Calgary this week anxious to move into his new luxury student highrise on Thursday.

Instead, the second-year math and finance student is sleeping on a friend’s couch in Toronto.

Next week when classes begin, the 19-year-old will be crashing on another friend’s couch in Waterloo.

One Columbia, a 22-storey apartment building, was supposed to be filled with students at the corner of King Street North and Columbia Street West.

But up to 500 students have been forced to make other arrangements. Some are at area hotels, others are staying with friends.

The building is far from complete with windows still missing and pieces of walls not erected.

“Within a week of school starting, it’s not ready and there could be long delays. It’s pretty frustrating,” Snaith said.

In a written statement on Thursday, Schembri Property Management, the developer building the project, said it “feels absolutely gutted and is extremely disappointed that the delay of construction has let down these future tenants” and they’re doing everything in their power to finish the building as soon as possible. They blame the delay on subcontractors not fulfilling their obligations and not having enough workers on site to finish on time. Subcontractors have been forced to bring in extra workers, and the company said they brought in extra subcontractors to help.

Late on Labour Day, the company emailed students, apologizing for the delay.

“We still have construction working 14-16 hours a day trying to finalize the occupancy. The window installers are working as fast as they can and had a bit of a delay as some of the installers went missing yesterday and today,” the email read.

The email suggested students could transfer their lease to other properties within the company. The note also said the first month’s rent would be pro-rated and refund cheques would be issued after students moved into the building.

But Snaith, who paid first and last month’s rent plus a deposit for a total of $1,400 when he signed his lease in June, wants his money back. Snaith is paying for his own tuition and works part-time as a server in a restaurant while attending school full time.

Students who signed a lease last month may not be able to get out of the contract because an added clause suggests if circumstances do not allow the building to open on time, the landlord will make other arrangements. Snaith’s lease does not have that clause.

Ryan King, a manager at the University of Waterloo’s Off-Campus Housing office, said he became aware of the additional clause when students brought their leases to a meeting organized by Off-Campus housing Thursday. About 50 students attended the information session at the Student Life Centre, he said.

The session was held to help students understand next steps and how to find alternative housing. A representative from the Waterloo Community Legal Services was also there to explain how students could terminate their leases.

“A lot of students are frustrated with the process,” said King, who added that many were unaware they would not be able to move into the building until receiving an email on Monday.

“They want a place to live and certainty,” he said.

King said Off-Campus Housing has been fielding many inquiries from stressed students by email, phone calls and in person.

Schembri Property Management’s statement says they are “committed to not leave anyone stranded,” securing enough hotel rooms to house each tenant with their own bed, with perks including free breakfast and some dinners, along with free shuttle service, internet and use of amenities at the hotels provided.

Caesar Ruest, a father of a UW student who was supposed to live at 1Columbia, drove to Waterloo from Keswick on Tuesday morning and was able to find his daughter a rental room in another student housing property. Connor, 19, is a second-year student in global business and digital arts whose lease does not include the added clause about alternative living arrangements.

Ruest said he will deal with the Landlord and Tenant Board to get first and last month’s rent recovered along with a deposit.

“As a parent, the last thing you want is to let your daughter be managed by a property management group that doesn’t know where they are going to place her,” he said.

Ruest said Schembri Property Management should have informed students earlier that they would not be open for occupancy this week.

“I am beyond frustrated. Their lack of response was exasperating and unprofessional,” he said.

Cameron Rapp, manager of development services for the City of Waterloo, said it’s unfortunate that students are left searching for housing as school approaches.

Rapp said the city’s role is to make sure the building passes inspection and is safe for students to live in.

“We will try and do what we can to make sure we are available to do inspections as requested,” he said.

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