Landlords and rent wars

By Kris Kotarski

Calgary’s housing situation clearly indicates a seller’s market–especially for students.

However, landlords don’t always do what is legal, as one Calgary area student found out when he was looking for an apartment last month.

"Some places asked for three to six months of rent up front in addition to the damage deposit," said the student who asked not to be identified. "I asked if it was legal and [the landlord] assured me that it was and added that they also ask the same of recent immigrants because both groups are default risks."

The Landlord and Tenant Information Centre operated by the Government of Alberta confirmed that under Section 37[1] of the Residential Tenancies Act of Aug. 1, 1992, asking for any more than one month’s rent in addition to the damage deposit is illegal. While technically the landlords are only entitled to ask for one month’s rent and the damage deposit, the law does not stop everyone.

"I’ve heard of things like this happening," said Calgary landlord Don McKinstrey. "Some landlords are scared of defaults and they do this as a precautionary measure. Students don’t always have the most steady source of income. I play by the book because it’s good to keep everything legal, but I know that unfortunately not everyone does."

The student in question went to the Alberta government and inquired about his rights.

"I contacted the Alberta government [and] I found out it was illegal," he explained. "I went back a couple of weeks later to look at different apartments in the same building and [the landlord] said I might have to pay where previously she said I had to.

"I was pissed and I planned to file a complaint but I realized that wouldn’t help the students either," he added. "They’re entitled to refuse students and if I did bring action against them they might stop renting to students altogether."

McKinstrey echoed the concerns.

"Some landlords ask for the extra money as an insurance policy," he said. "This way, if the students don’t mind paying up front they’re still welcome to rent. The landlords take this precaution with what they feel is good reason, even though it is illegal. If they didn’t take the extra money up front, they’d be reluctant to rent to students at all.

"The best piece of advice I have, is that students familiarize themselves with the law and aren’t afraid to show this."

The student did just that and confronted the landlord when he returned to the building for a second look. After raising questions about the legality of the landlord’s request for a second time, the landlord backed down.

"In the end, I didn’t have to pay extra at all," said the student.