A student at Humber College is warning others to know their rights after she and her roommates found out their landlord was collecting thousands of dollars in rent from them while subletting their rooms and listing them concurrently on Airbnb this summer.
Aleida Budgeon-Strating, 20, rented an apartment near Humber College's Lakeshore campus with two other students during the 2017-18 school year. It was her first time living away from home and her first experience as a renter.
When the school year wrapped in May, she and her housemates decided they wanted to sublet their rooms. Budgeon-Strating and a housemate were headed back to Guelph, and another went back to Ottawa for the summer. She says the roommates sent their landlord, Kathleen Beal, various prospects for subtenants, but Beal did not approve of them.
The father of one of Budgeon-Strating's housemates got suspicious and searched for the apartment on Airbnb, where he found a listing.
At the same time, Budgeon-Strating wanted to use her room since she continued to pay the rent, assuming there was no subletter.
"I sent [Beal] an email. She replied and said 'No,'" said Budgeon-Strating. "I could not get my furniture back until Sept. 1. And because I had turned the keys back, I was no longer a tenant, which I thought was weird."
That suspicion brought Budgeon-Strating, her mother and her housemate's family back to Toronto in early June.
"The neighbours said they heard footsteps and lights on and people moving around," she said.
She also encountered a stranger walking out of their apartment, who told them she was a summer subletter.
"I was shocked," Budgeon-Strating told CBC Toronto. "I felt taken advantage of."
The subletter also said other rooms were rented to Airbnb guests. To verify that, Budgeon-Strating had her uncle book one of the rooms, which he did successfully.
That's when Budgeon-Strating's mother took control of the situation. Robyn Budgeon brought a complaint before the Landlord and Tenant Board in July.
'Collected rent illegally'
The board's written decision said Beal testified that one of Budgeon-Strating's housemates consented to her listing his room on Airbnb, but that Beal also said she continued to collect rent from the students, despite getting additional income from both the subtenants and Airbnb guests.
The board ruled the "landlord collected rent illegally from the tenants starting May 1, 2018," and ordered Beal to pay back $4,852.58 to the students for rent that was double billed.
"We were angry these nice, decent honest kids were taken advantage of," said Budgeon, who represented the students, including her daughter, at the hearing.
"If Ms. Beal had done nothing, she still would have collected rent all summer. She didn't have to go through all this and create a mess for herself."
CBC Toronto tried to contact Beal multiple times for comment, but did not receive a response.
Budgeon said the landlord requested a review of the board's final decision.
Budgeon-Strating's situation does not surprise tenant advocates.
Karen Andrews, staff lawyer at the Advocacy Centre for Tenants Ontario, says she sees students in tough rental situations all the time.
"It's typical. They're seen as a vulnerable community," Andrews told CBC Toronto. "They're seen as a community that doesn't have legal resources, that don't fight back.
"They don't have a lot of money, generally, and they're often disconnected from the community," she said.
Andrews also points out many landlords she encounters in her cases think students are inexperienced, which Budgeon-Strating admits was the case with her.
"I didn't know the tenant laws," she said. "When [Beal] said I wasn't a tenant, I was confused and thought maybe she was right. Maybe if I'd known earlier, maybe if I had seen the signs, it could have been prevented."
The student, now in her second year at Humber, says she is hoping her story will help other students avoid similar situations.
"Keep proof of everything," she said. "Know your rights."