Right to rent costs plenty
Illegal deposits help immigrants get a place to live
Kitchener-Waterloo Record - August 30, 2001, page A1
by Frank Etherington
Immigrant Asian families are paying illegal deposits of between $4,000 and $6,000 so they
can rent at two highrise apartments buildings in Waterloo.
Desperate for housing in a tight rental market, highly educated new Canadians from
China and Korea are agreeing to pay the deposits because, without employment or
credit records, the only way they can qualify for apartments is to provide up-front cash.
Sang-Young (Tony) Shin, 40, and Zhangbin Yim, 47, are among immigrants who
paid $6,000 deposits to rent accommodation for their families at the Richmond
Square buildings on Regina Street North.
Shin, a research chemist, came to Canada from South Korea in June with his
wife, Theresa, and two sons James, 9, and John 6.
Yim, a computer analyst, arrived from Korea in April with his wife
Youngsoon, and three teenage sons.
Both said yesterday they paid the money because they were told that was
the only way to get apartments until they learn English and find jobs.
They have contracts showing they each paid the deposits and the cash
will be refunded or used to pay rent once they find work.
"We know it is against laws . . . but we hurry to get apartments and we don't
like trouble," Shin said. "There are not many places to rent . . . and people here
who rented (the units) are nice to us."
Yoke Kennedy, a settlement worker who helps new Canadians once they
arrive in the region, knows of at least five Asian families who this year have
paid similar deposits to get apartments at the Richmond buildings.
Because the buildings are clean and close to the universities, Kennedy
said they are popular with immigrants.
She said some can afford to pay deposits, but most don't have that
kind of money.
"It makes me hopping mad because some tie up chunks of money
they bring to Canada to live on . . . and end up taking low-paying jobs
instead of concentrating on something that matches their qualification,"
She said independent immigrants who come to Canada because
they have computer, engineering or science skills, have to bring enough
cash to support themselves for six months.
The expectation is they will quickly find work, but nowadays, with
fewer jobs available, Kennedy said it can take from seven months to
two years to learn English and find work - "and they can't use
that $6,000 until then."
John Nagy, manager of the buildings, said immigrants pay four
months advance rent - $4,000 to $6,000 - and cash is refunded
when tenants prove they have jobs.
Asked about the legality of tenant deposits, Nagy said he
does nothing to break the law.
"We don't tell them to do anything," he said. "They choose what
to do. We give them choice of a deposit, getting a guarantor to
co-sign or bringing us a letter of employment," he said. "What
do we do? The only other option is to turn them down."
Nagy said he's not sure how many immigrants paid the deposits
but insisted money is there to serve as a security deposit in case
the landlord has to take new Canadians to court.
"When something goes wrong, we can't go to China to get
our money," he said.
Kennedy, who works with Kitchener-Waterloo's Cross-Cultural
and Community Services agency, said she was there as an
interpreter when several immigrants handed over $6,000 cheques
as they rented apartments.
"We tell immigrants it's illegal . . . but they say they have no
choice (and) need housing for families."
Kennedy said immigrants realize that some local buildings
willing to rent to unemployed tenants who have no credit
histories "are crawling with cockroaches and are very dirty."
Gay Slinger, a lawyer
with Waterloo Region Legal Services, said Ontario's Tenant Protection Act
makes it illegal for landlords to ask tenants for more than first and last months' rent."
"But (immigrants) are vulnerable and worry they won't get
apartments," she said."
"It's a supplier's market."
Slinger said one way around the problem is for a tenant to
pay the deposit, rent the unit and then go to the
Ontario Rental Housing Tribunal to get the cashed returned.
"But often they don't want to do that," she said. "As
educated as they are, they don't like the sound of
Maria Alvarez, executive director at the cross-cultural agency,
said before immigrants agree to pay deposits, workers tell them to
get legal advice.
"But many come from countries where they don't trust the
state or law . . . and are reluctant to complain."
She said Waterloo Region is one of Canada's most popular
destinations for new Canadians and estimated her settlement
workers counsel about 180 immigrant a month.
"They quickly discover that apartments are hard to find
and demand is great," she said. "Finding housing around here
is almost hopeless."
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