When Queen’s student Bassam Al Hamidi was looking for a place to live, he turned to the Queen’s Community Housing Accommodations Listing Service.
“It’s so hard to find a room,” said Al Hamidi. “When I found this advertisement on Queen’s Community Housing I was like ‘okay, this is good, let’s call this person.’”
“I thought ‘this is affordable’,” Al Hamidi said, who signed an eight month lease for one room in a two bedroom apartment at 824 Johnson street. “I knew (the landlord) was weird, and I was like ‘I can manage’. But I didn’t know that he’s a drug addict. I didn’t know that I will wake up in the middle of the night many times, scared about my own security.”
Al Hamidi said the problems began with the landlord opening his mail. When he sought help from the Queen’s Student Community Relations Office, they encouraged him to try to cohabit peacefully.
While all tenants are entitled to certain rights under the Ontario Residential Tenancies Act, different rules apply if the tenant shares a kitchen or a bathroom with the owner of the residence. Al Hamidi said the Student Community Relations Coordinator told him to “hope (the landlord) is a good person with weird actions” because he had little legal recourse. “She said ‘this is what you get, it’s very cheap rent for the campus,’” according to Al Hamidi.
The “weird actions” continued as time went on. “I saw him in the kitchen a couple times fully naked,” said Al Hamidi. “When I knocked on his door, he would come up naked.”
Al Hamidi began to suspect that the landlord was using drugs.
“When he comes up sometimes at night to the living room, I notice that he’s on some substance, that his look is different, he’s very pale,” he said.
“I was a little bit scared, but also afraid that something will happen to him.”
Al Hamidi recalled when his suspicions were confirmed at the end of the fall semester during a time the landlord’s behaviour reached an extreme.
“I asked him what’s wrong and if he needs anything. I tried to make him soup,” he said, noting that the landlord then confessed to Al Hamidi that he was using crystal methamphetamine.
The behaviour escalated as the landlord began to use crystal methamphetamine more frequently, with the landlord “getting crazy angry” and “not sleeping for days,” the tenant explained. To prevent the landlord from entering his room during his methamphetamine-induced rages, Al Hamidi would wedge a chair under his doorknob.
According to Al Hamidi, the landlord frequently would yell and pound on the bedroom door with nonsensical demands, and described a particularly disturbing instance.
“I woke up at 3:30am hearing his voice screaming saying my name,” Al Hamidi said.
The volatile situation reached a head during Al Hamidi’s final exams. “I was just hoping for the exam season to pass. I came home one night, all the lights were on, doors were open, and the kitchen appliances were thrown in the front yard.”
“I just wanted to kind of be… caring and assuring, try to calm him down. He starts yelling and screaming at me, hallucinating.” The landlord became physically aggressive, and Al Hamidi had to flee the house. The landlord pursued him, but Al Hamidi was able to bike away and call 911 from a safe distance.
“He threatened my life, but I don’t want to accuse him, because I have my stuff in his house, I just want peace. I don’t want fights or trouble or court stuff,” said Al Hamidi. “All my clothes, my passport, my important papers, my TV, and my bed, and my desk are everything I have, and it’s in his house.”
A Kingston Police officer accompanied Al Hamidi back to the house to retrieve his things, but the landlord had left the scene.
The officer contacted Queen’s security and told them Al Hamidi’s story. They arranged to get him a room in Jean Royce Hall to stay in for the exam period.
While Al Hamidi was grateful for a place to stay, he said he “couldn’t sleep on the bed” because it was so dirty, and described finding “so many different types of hair, some of it black, some of it blonde, some of it short, some of it long.” There was also “a smell in the bedding” and “small pieces of glass on the floor.” Al Hamidi said that the fridge was “full of mold” and that his request for kitchen access was denied. He was offered cafeteria meals through the Swipe It Forward program, but since it was exam season “basically there is no food in these halls.”
“I couldn’t cook, I couldn’t sleep, couldn’t study,” Al Hamidi said. “It caused me to ask for accommodations for my final exam, and even when I did the exam, I don’t think I did that well because of the pressure.”
Al Hamidi said he “felt betrayed” by both the landlord and Community Housing.
According to Al Hamidi, he attempted to file a complaint, but Community Housing refused to take a record of his experience, investigate the allegation, or remove the landlord’s listing from the Queen’s Community Housing Accommodations Listing Service.
The room Al Hamidi lived in is currently posted on the Queen’s Community Housing Accommodations Listing Service — with a $50 rent increase.
There is a disclaimer at the bottom of the webpage stating “Queen’s does not endorse or warrant the quality of the rental units provided through this listing service”, but Al Hamidi argued that the Queen’s Community Housing Accommodations Listing Service should “at least take the person’s name, at least take the address. If (the landlord) comes in and tries to advertise his house or his room, talk with him about it. Figure out ‘is this really what you want to put your students in?’”
“I love Queen’s,” Al Hamidi said, “but there’s this idea of ‘oh, we’re Queen’s, we care about students so much’. You don’t. There is a contradiction between what you say and what is actually happening.”
Queen’s Community Housing would not provide comment on this specific case.
The political science student who hopes to complete his studies next year continued, explaining that he wanted to draw attention to the issue, not for himself, but for other students and the overall big picture.
“I am 34 years old. I’ve been through a lot,” said Al Hamidi. “I’m from Iraq. I worked with the American army, it was a very scary and dangerous job.”
Al Hamidi said that he could “manage,” but expressed concern for students who might be more vulnerable, such as younger students “who are 19 or 20,” and students who can’t view units in person. “There are international students, there are students who are from different provinces,” said Al Hamidi. “You might one day wake up and see in the newspaper Student killed in house by landlord.”
Al Hamidi said that the low vacancy rate and scarcity of rental units had made Kingston a difficult place to make living arrangements.
“I was in this position because I wanted something affordable and clean, and that’s very rare, especially in the [student] ghetto,” Al Hamidi said. “Either you rent a room for like 800 or 900 (dollars per month) with six or seven students in a clean house, or you live in a very bad place.”
Al Hamidi has since moved out of 824 Johnson street, and said “I looked at other houses for students — it’s honestly miserable.”
“I think I just got lucky with where I live right now,” he said.
Al Hamidi found a new apartment to live in for the next four months — not from the Community Housing list.
Editorial note: The landlord’s last name has been omitted from this article at the request of the source.