Bed bugs and cockroaches: international students in Sudbury, Ontario, denounce the landlord for the conversion of a 14-bed house

When Chinmoy Kar Victor first arrived in Greater Sudbury, Ontario, it was past midnight on May 2. After paying for an expensive taxi ride from the airport to his new rental unit on Bond Street, he was shocked to find it was nothing like the photos he saw online.

What was supposed to be a three-bedroom house had been converted into seven bedrooms, with several people living in each room.

Being an international student, Victor had no extra money to go to a hotel and his internship was due to start at 9am that morning. So he stayed.

“My first night was the most difficult night, because I had to stay in a room where there was no heating. I had no bed, I was cold. I wrapped myself with my warm jacket , but it still wasn’t enough,” he said.

“Then I realized there was something bigger, which was bed bugs, cockroaches, rats trampling on me.”

Victor says the rental house is infested with cockroaches, including in the kitchen. This photo shows them around the refrigerator. Bed bugs and rats are also in the house. (Submitted by Chinmoy Kar Victor)

Victor is originally from Bangladesh, but he moved to Canada in the fall of 2019 to attend Memorial University in Newfoundland.

He moved to Sudbury in northern Ontario earlier this month for his four-month work term towards his engineering degree.

He saw the rental ad on Kijiji, but it was also posted elsewhere on social media. He agreed to pay $525 per month.

Victor tried to get his money back from the owner without success. The same goes for his seven roommates, all of whom are international students attending school in Sudbury.

When they try to ask for their money back, Victor said the landlord threatened and intimidated them. They have screenshots of texts and recordings of phone calls with the owner.

“I insisted that he give me the money back, and he talked about all the legal implications I have to face if I want to move,” said Sibi Soundarajjan, one of the other tenants.

“I called my friend who is studying law, and from what he said, I contacted the owner again and tried to convince him to give me my money back and he ended the call on me.”

Tenants said they felt the landlord was taking advantage of them being new to Canada and unfamiliar with Canadian laws or Ontario tenant rights.

“He would contact potential tenants himself who he considered newcomers,” Victor said of the landlord. “His only target is newcomers, because newcomers will take time to realize what’s going on.”

Victor and his roommates are among the 622,000 international students studying in Canada. This number was 248,000 10 years ago.

CBC left several messages for the owner, with no response. The phone number provided to tenants is based in New Jersey.

A spokesperson for Courts Ontario said tenants can apply to the Landlord and Tenant Board for several reasons. There is a fee to file the application, but applicants can apply for a waiver if they meet the financial eligibility criteria. The spokesperson suggested tenants seek legal advice before proceeding.

Fire Safety Survey

The Sudbury home’s tenants were concerned that there were no working smoke alarms.

During an initial inspection, Greater Sudbury Fire Services found no functioning smoke alarms or carbon monoxide (CO) detectors. These were installed immediately by the fire brigade, with the cost being charged to the owner.

“We take complaints about smoke alarms and carbon monoxide alarms very seriously,” Deputy Fire Chief Nathan Melin said.

“In the event of a fire occurring that night, they need to be able to be alerted to this emergency and be able to evacuate this building in a timely manner.”

Greater Sudbury Fire Services is moving forward with legal action against the landlord for serious violations of the Provincial Offenses Act for renting a house that did not have smoke alarms or detectors functional carbon monoxide. If found guilty, that fine could reach $50,000.

Melin said a full joint inspection is now planned involving the fire departments, as well as Greater Sudbury’s building and by-law departments.

The creation of a secondary dwelling in a dwelling requires a building permit. If not, the city will issue a notice of violation, either of the building code or zoning bylaws. The owner must take steps to comply. If this does not happen, enforcement takes place, which may include court orders, fines or other repercussions.

County of Sudbury Joscelyne Landry-Altmann said she was particularly concerned because this situation concerns international students.

Joscelyne Landry-Altmann, who represents Greater Sudbury’s Ward 12 on city council, says slumlords are taking advantage of international students in her district. (Yvon Theriault/Radio-Canada)

“You have a vulnerable population that comes to our city, chooses to come to our city, and is exploited by slum dealers,” she said.

“We want to make sure that the students who are welcomed here are safe – parents want to know that – but we also want them to be responsible and accountable for the areas they move into. This applies to landlords. They are going to be identified one by one,” Landry-Altmann said.

“When you have landlords who are slum dealers who don’t advise their tenants and/or take advantage of their tenants, then we have a problem.”

At least one of the students living on Bond Street attends Cambrian College. Most post-secondary schools have departments that help newcomers get settled, a college spokesperson said, adding that they have no jurisdiction over private landlord behavior.

Public health complaint

Building work has taken place in the basement of the Bond Street house to build four additional bedrooms to let. The work left a space between the wall and the floor from which cockroaches and other insects emerged. (Submitted by Chinmoy Kar Victor)

Tenants at the Bond Street location have lodged a complaint with the local public health department. Complaints can be made by tenants or concerned neighbors and friends.

An inspector will be present to check for any violations of the Health Protection and Promotion Act, a ministry spokesperson said. The owner will be responsible for rectifying the problems. Failure to comply with this order results in heavy fines.

“Staying around rats, staying around a lot of bugs, it definitely makes us sick,” Victor said, adding that it also had an impact on his mental health.

“I absolutely don’t feel safe in this place, but at the same time I don’t have many options.”

Victor said he wanted to make sure no one else goes through the same experience.

“As soon as we move on June 1, I have a strong feeling that he’s going to bring another group of students and he’s going to do the same,” he said.

“He just took really bad advantages over us… And I just don’t want anyone else to feel the same way.”

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