Students living in HUB Mall report squalid living conditions


 Photo Credit: Matt Hirji/The Gateway

Photo Credit: Matt Hirji/The Gateway

During the three months that she lived in HUB last year, Monica Appleby rarely went without wearing slippers in her residence. It wasn’t by choice — the hair tangled in the stained carpet and the layer of grime on the steps of her stairs forced her to cover her feet.

It was during the same period that Melodie Champagne Laplante was asleep in her room in HUB one night, only to be awoken by a maid who had burst in, confused about which parts of the unit she was supposed to clean. Although Champagne Laplante asked the maid to leave, the maid insisted she needed to finish cleaning the unit.

Several months later, roommates Lana Mattice and Caitlyn Klingspohn were eager to move into their new HUB residence at the start of the 2011 fall term. However, when they walked into their unit, they were faced with an unsightly living space. A strange layer of grease coated parts of the unit. The cupboards appeared to be moulding. The stove was falling apart. The thermostat was stuck on high.

These University of Alberta students have all shared the unique experience of living in HUB Mall, a combined student residence and shopping mall on campus that houses approximately 838 students. The residences offer one, two or four-bedroom apartments, along with unfurnished studios, in a mall that offers direct pedway access to various campus buildings, the LRT station and the library.

But behind the brightly coloured windows that span the mall’s one-kilometre length is a decidedly different picture. Alleged unsanitary living conditions and a slew of issues with Residence Services have left many students dissatisfied with their experiences in HUB.

For roommates Mattice and Klingspohn, their troubles started almost immediately when they were faced with an infestation of pharaoh ants in their unit.  The roommates lost more than $100 in groceries during the pests’ initial attack. Photos obtained by The Gateway show the ants crawling on the lid of a milk carton and floating in a bowl of cereal.

“There was an instance where there was a non-stop trail of ants walking through the sink and going down by the drain,” Mattice recalls. “I wondered what would happen if I blocked off their path. I put a noodle in front of them, and a massive pile just got stuck in that spot.”

Enlisting the help of a pest control company did little to remedy the issue. After months of dealing with multiple spray sessions, which involved the two girls packing up all of their belongings and waiting three days before unpacking, it was discovered that their kitchen was actually rotting, and that the ants were living in the wood itself.

Mattice and Klingspohn requested a transfer to a two-bedroom unit in December, along with compensation for rent. Residences Services agreed to the transfer them to East Campus Village, but denied their request for compensation.

In an email obtained by The Gateway, a Residence Services representative explained that compensating for rent is not in line with university policy. They also acknowledged that the maintenance team had failed to fix the roommates’ stove for several months, and apologized for the “comedy of errors” caused by an inexperienced pest control technician, who had used the wrong spray the entire time.

Third-year student Melodie Champagne Laplante says her main issue with living in HUB is the unexpected invasions of privacy brought on by constant inspections of units.

According to Champagne Laplante, 24-hour notices are not obeyed by inspection staff, which are often made up of students acting on behalf of HUB administration. If an inspector deems a room unsatisfactory when a tenant moves in or out, a string of inspections follow suit. HUB administration charges residents $30 per hour per cleaner for a cleaning service if a unit fails an inspection.

Champagne Laplante claims that she’s been unfairly charged the fee on several occasions, which she has repeatedly appealed. However, she says her appeals have generally been disregarded by Residence Services.

“If I try to send an appeal, it’s really obvious from their emails that they don’t even read the appeals. It’s hard to quantify who exactly in the chain is not exactly paying attention.”

Similarly to Mattice and Klingspohn, who lived in a unit with a thermostat broken on high, Champagne Laplante claims the units are borderline “tropical.”

She also points out that some of the cleanliness problems are due to careless roommates.

“I can’t blame that on the administration,” she says. “I definitely feel like my roommates who are here just for one semester and don’t really feel at home here don’t bother cleaning, and it just ends up being a disaster.”

Tobie Smith, a communications officer for U of A facilities and operations, echoes that claim, noting that it’s a “two-way street” between students and residence administration.

“The maintenance of that building — we can do as much as we can do. If students are not meeting us halfway and keeping their suites clean or respecting the facility, it takes a bit of a beating.”

Doug Dawson, executive director of Ancillary Services, says he’s well aware of student concerns, particularly the pest infestations, which he points out have caused an exponential increase in pest control costs. 

When asked about complaints of lengthy waiting times for maintenance requests, Dawson says that response times are tracked very closely.

“Do things fall through the crack? Sure they do. But when we’re notified of issues promptly, we try to respond promptly.

“Generally speaking, if occupancy is an indicator of satisfaction, HUB is a very popular place for students to live,” Dawson adds. “It appears that the majority of students return year after year and enjoy living in that environment.”

But Champagne Laplante says the only reason she’s lived in HUB for three years is because it’s hard to find a unit that costs $400 a month including utilities. Still, she notes the monthly cost is an exorbitant amount, considering that her residence is “old and broken down.”

“In general, it’s almost a campus joke,” she says. “We hear all the time about how HUB is a terrible place to live. That’s got to come from somewhere. I’ve heard a lot of horror stories living here.”

Fourth-year student Richard Zhao, president of the HUB Community Association, says he personally hasn’t had any troubles living in HUB for the past four years. Still, he acknowledges that concerns have been raised in regards to cleanliness and pest infestations, although he says the language barrier among residents can often pose a problem in communicating those issues to administration.

“A lot of our residents don’t speak English properly, so we try to facilitate dialogue between our residences and staff members from Residence Services,” Zhao says.

Third-year student Monica Appleby doesn’t believe that HUB units are accurately depicted by Residence Services. When she moved into her unit, she was taken aback by the lowly conditions, including the state of her oven.

“The oven looked like a cave because of all of the stuff that was caked on inside,” Appleby says, adding that it barely worked during her stay. “We used that oven once and we could taste six years worth of food.”

But Appleby says the worst part of the apartment was her bathroom. The ceiling was peeling away, and the shower doors were frosted with grime. The tracks in which the doors slid were also caked with black and brown matter, which she says revealed a lack of inspection on the part of Residence Services.

Dawson, however, believes the conditions of the units are accurately portrayed. “I think we’re as transparent and open as we can be about all the products that we offer,” he says. “I don’t think we’re promoting the Four Seasons.” 

According to the 2011-12 HUB resident survey, nearly 80 per cent of residents surveyed indicated they had filed a maintenance request in the past year for pest control, appliance fixes, room temperature and other problems. It’s issues like these that Mattice says students should expect to face when moving in.

“People really need to know what they’re getting into when they agree to live on campus, especially in HUB,” Mattice says.

“Honestly, my best advice would be to try to find something else,” Appleby cautions. “If someone was dead set on HUB, I would warn them to prepare for a lack of sanitary conditions.”