Overcrowded student houses in Kitchener neighbourhood could pose safety risks
Published Wednesday, November 6, 2019 8:47AM EST
Residents of Kitchener’s Lower Doon neighbourhood are raising concerns about single family homes they say are turning into overcrowded student housing.
Kitchener Fire adds that they have been cracking down on the potential safety risks when 18 students were found living in a single dwelling last year.
Since then, more than 15 properties in the neighbourhood have been flagged as problematic.
“We want to make sure the use of the house is consistent with what it was designed to be used for,” said chief fire prevention officer Tom Ruggle.
Conestoga College student Colin McCracken moved into his Lower Doon home in September and admits it’s a bit crowded.
“It’s nine people living in the house with nine bedrooms,” he said. “I’ve heard there were 12 people in a four bedroom.”
McCracken estimates that about 95 per cent of the people who live on his streets are students crammed into small homes.
People who live in the area say the number of cars in the driveway is an indicator of how many students are packed into a house.
“When students are coming from other countries or other cities they are looking for houses last minute,” said Conestoga Students Inc. president Scott Wyles.
Enrollment at the college has continued to climb in recent years which some say have made for tight living arrangements nearby.
“That shared space is difficult even with six people,” said student Emily Deans. “I have difficulty cooking in the kitchen and have no storage for food.”
Kitchener Fire says they’re keeping an eye out for these situations mostly on a complaint driven basis.
Ruggle adds that many of the houses in the neighbourhood have been converted into student housing properties without permits.
Any rental with more than four bedrooms is classified as a lodging house and not a single family dwelling, which means it has to fit proper safety standards.
“[A lodging house needs] protected stairways, addition early warning systems, and requirements for special extinguishing systems,” said Ruggle.
Real estate agent Mike Steinborn says he has a hard time finding housing for large groups of students.
“With a group of two, sometimes three, I’ve been able to do it,” he said. “Anything larger than that I’m not finding it.”
Steinborn recently converted his basement into studio apartment for two students.
The city of Kitchener will begin a planning study by the end of the year. It will include public engagement and workshops in 2020 with report on new housing solutions expected to go to council next spring.
Conestoga College will host an event for students next week about knowing tenant rights and obligations.