Excess of summer sublets leaves out-of-town students paying the bills

Students like Tanis Smither, who are on their way out of town for the summer, are having problems finding tenants to sublet their apartments.

Several universities bring more than 17,000 off-campus students to the Halifax area each fall, making this a “student city.” But the population of Halifax changes drastically from mid-April until the end of August, when many students pack their bags to return to their hometowns. Although many of these students live on-campus in residence, a great number rent apartments and rooms from local landlords or homeowners.

When the winter term ends in April, these students are often signed to yearlong contracts and obligated to pay rent for the summer months, even when they don’t plan on staying in Halifax. This creates a problem: there are many more people leaving than arriving, and summer sublets become plentiful, not to mention cheaper than usual.

Tanis Smither is a second-year contemporary studies student at the University of King’s College. She is having trouble finding someone to rent her Halifax apartment for the summer, when she’ll be returning to her native Toronto.

“I started looking mid-February. I put a couple initial ads out just to see what happened, and I didn’t get a lot of responses back,” says Smither.

Smither’s apartment on Pepperell Street is close to downtown and several amenities and is only a five-minute walk from Dalhousie’s main campus.

Many students have resorted to what Dalhousie Off-Campus Housing supervisor Sherri Slate calls “rent incentives,” or small discounts and add-ins for subletters.

“Those rental incentives may be that they’ll charge, let’s say $400 a month, and they don’t have to pay heat and hot water, or cable and Internet are included, or they may offer actual rent discounts. The more of those incentives that are included, the quicker the place is rented,” Slate says.

Smither has decided her $530 rent per month is negotiable. Her apartment includes utilities and comes furnished. Several of her nine other roommates are also looking for subletters and have had similar problems. Smither says she is getting desperate.

“Hopefully, it’s a student because I’m sure they would fit with the demographic of the house better, but at this point if anybody in the world wants to sublet my apartment it would be fantastic, I’d be open to it,” says Smither.

Smither says several people have inquired about or even come to look at her place, but they have all found other apartments in the end. She has begun to advertise the room online, on websites like Kijiji and Craigslist, through Facebook groups, and EasyRoommate.com.

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Several students are advertising by hanging posters around Dalhousie’s campus. (Photo: Victoria Walton)

The Dalhousie Off-Campus Living website uses a third-party service, Places4Students, to help students find housing opportunities. Dalhousie’s is free, and Smither says she would use other private services if not for the fees.

“The only reason I haven’t been considering them is because I can’t afford it, I just can’t on my student budget,” she says.

Yasch Neufeld is a rental manager and co-founder of SubletSeeker.com, a similar housing service specifically targeting student sublets. The Halifax startup launched last year and Neufeld says they are seeing even more business in 2015.

“A lot of people, especially at the time you’re looking for subletters, you end up being busy with exams or sometimes you just get unlucky,” Neufeld says, “so we offer a premium service as well where we’ll actually do the work for you.”

SubletSeeker will do everything from photographing your apartment and listing it online, to finding people who are interested and performing reference checks. The fee to use these services is a commission, usually between five to ten percent of the cost of rent. SubletSeeker also has a free section for anyone to use to advertise independently.

Although there are no guarantees, Neufeld says his service has already set up about 10 renters with apartments this season. Neufeld suggests students “get as much information on who you’re subletting to as possible,” to prevent them backing out or not paying rent.

“Call previous landlords of anyone who’s looking to sublet, collect a security deposit, and get them to sign the sublease right away. Those three things will generally lock somebody in,” Neufeld says.

Slate warns that landlords still have the final say on anyone looking to sublet, and that the sublease agreements must be the same as the original lease.

Slate’s Off-Campus Housing office caters to students seeking general housing resources, everything from legal advice to moving companies to listing rentals. She thinks it’s important these resources are available. “All of our faculty, student or staff are entitled to post an ad for free once every year,” says Slate.

Slate and Neufeld agree there is an excess of sublets in the summer months, and that not everyone can find someone to take over their lease.

Although frustrated, Smither realizes she might not find a tenant. “There’s not really much I can do, my hands are kind of tied because I signed a contract,” she says.

Smither plans to live rent-free at home in Toronto and work full time so she can afford to pay rent and save for tuition next year.

“I guess it’s not going to be the end of the world if I don’t find a subletter, it’s just going to set me back a couple thousand dollars.”

Roméo Dallaire pleads for support to end child soldiers at Halifax event

Roméo Dallaire discusses his “ultimate mission” to end the use of child soldiers as weapons of war, at Citadel High on Tuesday evening.

About 400 students, teachers, community members and local figures turned out to see Roméo Dallaire speak at Citadel High’s Spatz Theatre on Tuesday. Dallaire’s talk focused on what he calls his “ultimate mission” to end the use of child soldiers as weapons of war.

Dallaire, a retired lieutenant-general, founded the Roméo Dallaire Child Soldiers Initiative, an advocacy group based in Halifax at Dalhousie University. The Dallaire Initiative works to promote increased understanding of child soldiering.

“The numbers are not decreasing, but increasing. And so there is a way of reducing it, by preventing them from being recruited and by training the security forces to consider them as a threat and to know better how to handle them,” said Dallaire.

Dallaire’s experience working with the United Nations during the Rwandan Genocide prompted him to develop the Dallaire Initiative. It has been a year and a half since Dallaire left his job as a Senator to pursue humanitarian work.

Dallaire spoke for over half an hour regarding the use of child soldiers as weapons of war, and how Canadians can help. There are two main principles Dallaire encourages: “The first is be aware of how these conflicts are using children. Secondly, donate. We absolutely need resources to be able to train these forces over there,” he said.

Making progress in Sierra Leone

Josh Boyter is the communications officer for the Dallaire Initiative. He stressed how vital it is that Canadians be aware of the role of child soldiers. “Children are one of the most sophisticated, low-tech tools that many armed groups have to fight their wars. And until we can effectively combat that, they’re going to continue using children as weapons of war.”

The Dallaire Initiative, which began at Dalhousie in 2010, is making progress in Sierra Leone, where more than 10,000 children were used during the civil war from 1991-2002. “(Sierra Leone) is now one of the main peacekeeping countries in Africa. Now it is a thought leader on this issue,” said Boyter.

Boyter said that it is not more troops that are needed, but better trained troops in dealing with the complex issue of child soldiers. The issue of child soldiers is incredibly complex, using both boys and girls of 7, 8 or 9 years old. These children are used in many ways, including acting as spies, carrying weapons, and forced sexual servitude. “Girls, due to certain cultural nuances and things like that, may see a lot more reluctance for them to come back into society,” said Boyter.

An issue close to home

Dallaire said that Canadians are aware of the issue, but don’t know how serious it is. “Not realizing that it’s far more sophisticated, they use (child soldiers) in all the positions, from support to sex slaves, that there are large numbers of girls, and that by using kids is to sustain conflict for a long time. That innocence on our part is going to bite us, because we now see this happening in Canada too,” Dallaire said.

The Dallaire Digital Ambassadors Project is focusing on social media to draw attention to child soldiers. “It’s critically important to recognize that the individual you see on the screen is not somebody else’s problem, it’s not someone else’s issue, but rather that we’re all connected as a global citizenry,” Boyter said.

Proceeds from Tuesday’s event will go towards the Dallaire Child Soldiers Initiative at Dalhousie and to Sending Orphans of AIDS Relief (SOAR) Halifax. These proceeds will aid the initiative’s main project in Sierra Leone, which is currently on hold until November due to the Ebola crisis.

Dallaire took time after his speech to answer several questions from Citadel High and Horton High school students. Afterwards, Dallaire sat to greet a long line of attendees and sign copies of his two books.

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Plans for TEDxDalhousie ‘generating buzz’ in community

Dalhousie University will be hosting TED talks event later this month. Kathleen Reid talks about planning, ticket sales and the itinerary for the event, which will soon be announcing speakers.

Dalhousie University will be hosting its own independently organized TED talks event later this month. Beginning at 3 p.m. on March 29, the speaker series event will take place in Nova Scotia for the fourth year.

Kathleen Reid is a co-coordinator of the event, and has high expectations for this year.

“I hope that it will bring a broader sense of community within our student body, and all the people that are involved in our community at Dal,”she said. “Just starting conversation about things that are important here.”

Demand for tickets already exceeding seating limit

Although speakers haven’t yet been announced, the event is already generating interest.

“We’ve gotten a great response on Facebook, I think there’s over 1000 people that say they’re attending the event,” Reid said.

This is slightly problematic, as the McInnes room of the Student Union Building has a maximum capacity of 400 people. “It’s good though, because it’s generating a lot of buzz,” said Reid.

Each TEDx independent event has a theme, and this year’s TEDxDalhousie is focused around the theme ‘People. Passions. Possibilities.’ Reid expects talks on a variety of topics people are enthusiastic about.

“At a university there’s so many different areas people are passionate about and it’s really cool to see the response we’ve gotten. We’ve gotten a lot of student applications, which is awesome because it’s a Dal event now, so it’ll be a really different roster of speakers.”

This theme sets a guideline for the itinerary of the day, which consists of three separate speaker sessions, with breaks between each. The event will also include dinner. Each session will have two or three speakers as well as an entertainer, which could be anything from music to spoken word poetry.

The tickets haven’t gone on sale yet, but will be available for $25 beginning at least two weeks before the event, according to Reid. They can be bought on the TedxDalhousie website or at the Student Union Building’s info desk on campus. The student union also plays a part in organizing the event, providing funding, resources and technological equipment for the event.

Bigger and better than previous years

This years TEDxDalhousie is set to be larger than last year’s TEDxNovaScotia event, which had the theme ‘Chances Worth Taking’. It is also more focused around Dalhousie’s community, although it is open to the public.

As for what attendees of TEDxDalhousie can expect from the event, Reid speaks to TED’s motto, ‘Ideas Worth Sharing.’

“I like the idea that everyone is passionate about something that they can talk about. The whole overarching idea that everyone has a Ted talk within them,” Reid said.