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Apartment building in Peterborough. Photo courtesy of Kevin Collins Photography.

Racist Landlords Pose Challenges for International Students

Written by
Irene Suvillaga
March 5, 2021
Racist Landlords Pose Challenges for International Students
Apartment building in Peterborough. Photo courtesy of Kevin Collins Photography.

Leaving for university is a kaleidoscopic mush of events that slaps us in the face with the realization of how close we are to the verge of adulthood. We are thrown into a whole new world. A world full of opportunities that we carve with our own choices and decisions. A world in which you can be yourself and freely express who you are, but so can others. We are finally on our own. We can do what we want but there is always that little voice inside your head reminding you of all the new responsibilities you bear. This voice can be your parent’s or your own guilty conscience. We are left to take hold of a portion of our lives that we are not really used to: buying food, cooking, paying bills, finding housing. 

One of the most difficult, confusing and anxiety-triggering things that we as students face (especially for international students like myself) is the unceasing search for housing and the uncertainty of where you are going to end up, particularly during your first few times. Most of us are thrown into the housing world with just a few websites, our friends and our own initiative to start looking and messaging strangers. We have to take into account budgets, location, whether utilities are included, roommates you can peacefully coexist with, etc. There are indeed many aspects of housing that at first glance might not be vitally important… but they are. And you learn that along the way. 

Rent prices, cultural barriers, and location narrow our housing possibilities.

What we as international students don't really take into account, is the hardships that arise from prevailing discrimination that lies hidden within the housing market. As international students we come to Canada with little expectation of what we will encounter and above all, with little knowledge of our rights. We come from our own cultural and social nest. And we open our wings to fly to the unknown. We are received in open arms by the school and the country but there is always a lingering sense of vulnerability in the air. 

As international students we can easily be identified from a crowd. We are already accompanied by certain stereotypes, assumptions of our ways of lives, customs or behaviours. And this has shackled many into a difficulty in finding, renting and even sustaining housing in Peterborough. And although these issues are not uncommon, they are usually not heard of. 

Image courtesy of Kevin Collins Photography.

On February 4, World University Service Canada (WUSC) at Trent collaborated with the Ontario Public Interest Research Group (OPIRG) Peterborough in a Facebook live which addressed the subject of housing in Peterborough. The discussion revealed several underlying issues common among international student experiences when finding housing. These included challenges that one might encounter before getting a house: some landlords prefer groups of 4-7 students; summer or winter leases where many students have to secure a job before securing housing; and costs. As well as after acquiring housing: language and cultural barriers with new roommates and the limited knowledge of our rights and responsibilities as tenants which can impel landlords to take advantage of the situation. 

Much of what was pointed out in the panel of discussion was not uncommon among several of the students I interviewed. Many of my interviewees decided to remain anonymous in fear that exposing experiences like these could damage their future housing opportunities. Yet, all highlighted the struggle to find adequate housing due to discrimination from the landlord. 

Discrimination in this case was usually embodied as lack of correspondence on behalf of the landlord when they mentioned they were international or simply carried an ethnic name. 

"When I had my name in the profile I only got searched out by other Indian students or landlords. But when I changed my name to one of my white roommates' names, I had a lot more interactions from different roommates and landlords… I actually had my mom tell me not to use my name when looking. This is when I noticed a change in responses,” said one of my interviewees. 

Another form of discrimination was simply granting the house to other students who “fit the profile” as another student was told. This could either be because of certain prejudices the landlord held or just simple stereotypes of their persona and lifestyle:

The landlord was an elderly [sic] man from Peterborough and told that he wasn’t comfortable having brown folks in his house as he has seen them to be troublesome previously because they allegedly drink a lot and cause disturbance. Which was very stereotypical of him knowing we got letters from our Don stating our clean behaviour.

Other landlords demand that international students pay in cash or pay a fee larger than that of domestic students. 

We were talking (to the landlord) about deposits and rent and she asked me to give her a 500 dollar key deposit while everyone else would only have to pay $100. I asked her why but she didn't have a proper answer for it. However, she had asked us who was international and who was local. And I was the only one who was international. She wouldn't give me an answer as to why me not being from here would constitute as me giving her $500 straight up in cash. 

Overall, there was a consensus on the premise that discrimination can be a notable obstacle to the possibility of finding and purchasing adequate and affordable housing. Because there is a high demand for student housing in Peterborough, landlords have the option to discriminate and choose who they want to have living in their houses. 

Many students have expressed several ways in which they feel Trent could help them through the process of finding housing. These include greater support for first year students transitioning to second year by guiding them through the process, helping them connect with landlords who will understand the student’s situation, such as the student’s financial background, and educating them on their rights and responsibilities as tenants. This could be either a group of older students, or a university guide for example. 

Until then, there exist several organizations and community members that aim to support newcomers and facilitate their adaptation to a new culture and environment by assisting them in finding stability and security. 

The New Canadians Centre (NCC) is a non-profit organization aimed to aid immigrants and refugees to become equal members in the Canadian society and to ensure cultural integration through leadership and empowerment. This is sought by promoting cross-cultural understanding and acceptance through education and awareness, providing trained staff and adequate facilities, advocating and by promoting fundraisers that will help improve the quality of community services for new Canadians. The Peterborough Immigration Partnership (PIP) is an example of their work. PIP is a community-based partnership between organizations and individuals that seeks to ensure the economic, social and cultural integration of newcomers to Canada. Their work is guided by the Community Immigrant Integration Plan 2016-2021.  Part of their work is targeted to international students where they strive to support and integrate international students during their schooling years while also preparing them for the future by developing and implementing strategies that help retain them in the community long after graduation. 

If you have experienced any of these challenges when searching for housing or have simply had a hard time finding appropriate places, be sure to contact NCC through their website. If you would like to share your personal experiences with housing discrimination do not hesitate in contacting Arthur Newspaper!

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