Residents of CampusOne, a privately owned student residence affiliated with U of T, have started a petition after CampusOne management denied multiple requests to cancel leases for students who have moved out due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
The petition, called “Refund and Reimbursement for students at CampusOne Toronto,” has over 800 signatures and urges CampusOne to cancel student contracts at a time when many students are already suffering financial hardships due to loss of income.
The petition emphasizes that “many international students have [had] to abandon their studies, return home, or be trapped in foreign countries in a dire financial situation and precarious physical security.” It also lists as a grievance that the residence has closed some amenities, such as the gym and study spaces, without providing reimbursement in exchange.
Danila Troitskiy, a CampusOne resident and first-year student at U of T studying English and history, is one of many students affected by this ongoing situation. Immediately after the quarantine was announced, Troitskiy sent a request to CampusOne to cancel his contract, which was rejected by management. As more requests were denied, Troitskiy and other residents contacted Jessica Bell, MPP for the University–Rosedale riding, asking for assistance.
“Simply mailing CampusOne and starting petitions isn’t really doing much, so we had to go a bit further and see if we could make it more widespread,” Troitskiy told The Varsity in an interview.
Bell addressed a letter to the CampusOne general manager, Simon Zarzour, in which she expressed her concern for the students and asked the residence to cancel or significantly reduce rent. While the students are bound by their contracts, Bell thinks there are more important matters to consider.
“It’s not about what is legally required,” Bell said in an interview with The Varsity. “We are experiencing the worst health crisis that our planet has seen in over 100 years since the Spanish flu in 1918.”
Bell believes that, as some students may feel unsafe living at the residence, CampusOne should “cancel leases for rental apartments” that residents can no longer use.
“It’s a moral question, not a legal question,” Bell said.
Zarzour wrote a letter in response to Bell, commenting that “thanks to our ongoing ability to collect rent in exchange for the housing we provide, CampusOne has not terminated a single employee contract and we continue to employ our full team.” He also noted that CampusOne is a privately owned residence and that students sign 12-month contracts.
Addressing Zarzour’s defence that CampusOne’s policies have protected its employees, Bell said that any workers who are laid off due to COVID-19 may be eligible for the Canada Emergency Response Benefit (CERB). She noted that the CERB may be available to some students, but she pointed out that even “having $2,000 a month when you have maybe a $1,600 rental bill makes things very scary for renters.”
CampusOne has provided discounts of $150 per month and extended meal plans by one month, but Bell and the students do not think this is enough to cover rent prices upward of $1,700.
“It doesn’t look like CampusOne [is] responding to [the petition] at all because nothing has really changed,” Troitskiy said. “This many signatures should force a response out of them, but we’re not getting any.”
While CampusOne is affiliated with U of T, it is handling the situation differently from the university’s residences.
“Campus One is affiliated with U of T, but it is run by Canadian Campus Communities,” a U of T spokesperson told The Varsity in an email. “Credits were given to the accounts of students who moved out early from our residences.”
Reflecting on his experience, Troitskiy said, “I think CampusOne really tarnished their whole reputation with this. I don’t think me, or the hundreds of students that got scammed out of their money, are going to go back.”
CampusOne did not respond to The Varsity’s request for comment.