Bug infestation to bad water: McMaster University residence under fire by students

Students living in a new downtown McMaster University residence are demanding action from the university in Hamilton after ongoing construction has caused a slew of problems from electrical outages, to a bug infestation, to rashes and gastrointestinal issues from contaminated water.

bug infestation to bad water: mcmaster university residence under fire by students

In one instance, the tenants’ group at 10 Bay St. says, a female student exited her shower to find a male construction worker in her kitchen.

A letter from the group to the university outlines their concerns and lists demands for action, including partial rent refunds and an external third-party hazard review.

Elliot Goodell Ugalde, a grad student living at the 30-storey tower at the corner of Bay and King streets and co-chair of the Tenant Working Solidarity Group, which wrote the letter, said they’ve organized collectively because tenants haven’t had any luck getting satisfactory responses from McMaster at an individual level.

On top of the other issues, Ugalde said there have been privacy violations and unscheduled entries into some units.

“There was a situation where a female tenant was in her shower and as she came out of the shower, she was greeted to a male construction worker in her kitchen, which was not great. She said she felt violated and vulnerable as a consequence of that.”

The letter also outlines concerns around “inadequate security measures” and construction-related health and noise issues.

bug infestation to bad water: mcmaster university residence under fire by students
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The letter sent to McMaster Housing Services on behalf of the tenants of 10 Bay. Supplied by Elliot Goodell Ugalde

In an email to Global News, McMaster’s media relations manager Wade Hemsworth said the university recognizes that ongoing construction has created challenges for residents at 10 Bay and that it has been working “as quickly as possible” with its development construction partners to address all students’ concerns.

“We made the decision to open the lower floors of 10 Bay while the upper floors and building amenities were still being completed because we know how challenging it is for students to find safe and academically supportive housing,” Hemsworth said. “Tenants were advised in advance that they were moving into a building where construction was still taking place. As this continues, we ask that students continue to share their concerns with us, so that we can find solutions and deliver a great residence experience.”

Global News has reached out to Knightstone Capital Management Inc., the developers behind the build, but has not heard back.

The tenants group has asked for a 75 per cent rental reimbursement for the months of November and December, as well as at least 50 per cent off rent until construction is complete.

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The university said it will offer a 25 per cent rent refund for the months of November and December, in addition to rent refunds provided in September of 50 per cent and October of 25 per cent, but it’s unclear if there will be future rental reimbursements.

William Galloway, also a tenant at 10 Bay, said he feels that there’s been a “level of dishonesty” about how much construction would impact their living experience in the building — where rent for a shared unit starts at $1,375 per month and goes up to $2,065 for a one-bedroom unit.

“We were told that most things would be done in October and that when we came into the building in September, there wouldn’t be any construction on our floors and that everything up to our floor would be kind of completed,” Galloway said.

“So coming in to the building and having no laundry room, having most of the amenities, like the study rooms, like the theatre and the things that obviously elevated the price weren’t completed either. A lot of those things have been completed in the last three months. But again, that’s been going through construction all through the day, often starting at early times and being really distracting, as well as making messes and hazards in the hall.”

Galloway said the construction issues have been so cumbersome that his job as a teaching assistant has been impacted, adding that he’s “avoided this building like the plague” since the school year began.

One statement from an anonymous tenant reads: “So many people I’ve spoken to, including myself, have developed rashes and skin lesions, presumably from the detected coliform in our water supply. When I was in summer camp, we had a similar coliform outbreak and I developed nearly identical rashes and got incredibly sick.”

bug infestation to bad water: mcmaster university residence under fire by students
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A photo of a glass filled with water from the taps at 10 Bay. Elliot Goodell Ugalde

Hemsworth said the university has done water testing and confirmed the presence of total coliforms — a type of bacteria — in the building’s water system, but that health authorities have said it’s “highly unlikely” the water will cause illness.

“Out of an abundance of caution, we are supplying bottled drinking water on every residence floor until this issue is resolved,” Hemsworth said. “We have flushed the water-supply system and established an ongoing flushing schedule to ensure water continues to flow through all parts of the building, thereby reducing the likelihood of future issues.”

CUPE 3906 has been working with the tenants group to organize collectively and the union’s vice-president Mason Fitzpatrick said it’s hard to believe the water testing results without seeing them.

“McMaster has really created an environment of distrust in this atmosphere,” Fitzpatrick said. “Given that, until we see a test sort of ourselves, people here don’t know what to believe. You know, they don’t know if they just tested the water outside or on the floors because we’ve noticed that the water quality is really different in every room. So, people still don’t feel safe here, which is a primary concern.”

Another issue that the tenants have raised is a bug infestation in the laundry room, which they were told by McMaster was linked to a “ventilation issue.”

“The laundry room has become infested with insects, making it unusable,” reads another anonymous tenant statement. “There are insects in the washing machines and dryers. I’ve lived two decades in the global South and have never witnessed, let alone experienced, such deplorable living conditions.”

Hemsworth said “a ventilation issue in September in the laundry room was resolved promptly at the time.”

Another concern is parking — some tenants have paid $5,000 to access underground parking, which remains incomplete at this time.

Hemsworth said the attached parking garage is expected to open early next year and that students who have been parking in a McMaster surface lot across the street since 10 Bay opened will get a partial refund.

Ugalde said tenants with vehicles haven’t felt safe and secure with the temporary parking solution.

He said one of the other concerns is that the residence has been marketed to international students who may not have been familiar with the local housing market and exploring alternative options.

“And as a consequence of the fact that these international students are also employed by McMaster — McMaster serves as their employer, their landlord and their educator — a lot of them are petrified to come forward with anything because if something happens and they lose their ability to study at the institution, their study visas will be revoked and they’ll be sent back home.”

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