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By Daniella Mikanovsky

A string of prowling incidents and break-ins stretching from Aug. 2018 to Sept. 11 continues to rock Westdale. In the wake of these events, students and organizations on campus have been stepping up their advocacy for landlord accountability in the community.  

The first incident occurred on Aug. 3, when an intruder broke into the second story window of McMaster Integrated Science student Connor MacLean’s home. After the incident, MacLean and his roommates called their landlords.

“We felt unsafe in that house, so the landlords agreed to put in motion lights. A month later, there was still nothing. We ended up buying our own motion lights, our own security camera, and we installed it ourselves,” MacLean explained. “Safety should not be the student’s responsibility alone. The landlords need to be the first people looking out for that.”

Shemar Hackett, associate vice president of municipal affairs on for the McMaster Students Union, is planning to tackle the issue of unaccountable landlords. The committee he leads is focused on improving off-campus life for students, including housing safety.

One initiative the committee hopes to implement is the Landlord Licencing System, a city-run program that would fund annual housing inspections and certify that any tenant complaints are taken seriously. This system would encourage landlord responsibility, with the goal being for students to have safety features in their homes, including functioning locks on all windows and doors. 

An additional initiative that the committee has been undertaking is a Landlord Rating System, which will exist as an online forum for students to rate and report their housing units. Similar to the website Rate My Professor, this website could incentivize landlords to take responsibility when maintaining their houses.  

“Once the website gains traction and students begin to report their experiences, irresponsible landlords will begin to see a decline in students seeking their properties. In return, students should see safer living conditions as landlords are now motivated to upkeep their rental units, which increases the quality of living for students and ensures their safety,” said Hackett.

With a host website confirmed, Hackett expects to have the program available for student use in the new year.

There are also programs on campus available for students who feel a lack of security. For instance, a skill students may want to acquire is self-defense. McMaster Athletics and Recreation is offering two 10-week classes for “Krav Maga Self-Defense” this fall.

It is worth noting that “Women’s Self-Defense” has not been scheduled this term. The Athletics and Recreation department is facing difficulty with locating a space for this class due to the renovations occuring in the David Braley Athletic Centre. Although classes may return in the winter term, in light of the Westdale break-ins, the lack of classes may be a significant issue.

For female students who are looking for a women’s-only class, the Equity and Inclusion Office may offer it. Pilar Michaud, director of human rights and dispute resolution at the EIO, explains that in the past, the EIO ran a women’s self-defense workshop.

Michaud also points to several other services available to students, including Meagan Ross, McMaster’s sexual violence response coordinator, the MSU’s Women and Gender Equity Network and Good2Talk, a free and confidential 24/7 helpline that offers professional support for university students in Ontario.

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