On April Fools’ Day – or poisson d’avril in French – about 160 people marched a giant paper fish down René Lévesque to the provincial rental board’s downtown office to demand shorter wait times for tenant hearings.
Led by an umbrella tenants’ rights group Regroupement des comités logement et associations de locataires du Québec (RCLALQ), marchers from all over the province pointed to reports showing landlords waited only six weeks for their cases to be heard at the Régie du logement, while tenants could wait a year and a half – up by 15 months from a three-month wait in 2000.
Sylvie Dalpé, a coordinator for Action Dignité St-Léonard, said the interests of renters have still not been met.
“We ask that tenants be better heard,” said Dalpé. “We are waiting for a change and have seen none.”
But according to Régie spokesperson Jean-Pierre Le Blanc, while many tenants endured long wait times, landlord wait times were shorter because complaints were quicker to process.
“More than half the cases at the rental board deal with non-payment of rent,” said Le Blanc. “These are the fastest because cases are five minutes.”
While the average length for cases brought by landlords seems lower, it is comparable for a variety of quick-fix tenant situations, including health and safety issues or cancelling a lease.
“When the dwelling is unsanitary, the tenant can move out immediately,” he said. “When the tenants ask to cancel the lease and move out, that’s a lot faster, often one to three months.”
But this can be risky, because if the board determines that the apartment was not unsanitary, the tenant will owe back rent. It is also often hard for tenants to find a new place to live on such short notice.
RCLALQ is requesting that the Régie hear health and safety cases within 72 hours, and speed up the time for other cases as well. Jennifer Auchinleck, a member of the Montreal community organization Project Genesis, said their demands need to be taken more seriously.
“We have not been satisfied with the rental board’s response,” said Auchinleck.
But Le Blanc said the Régie hired eight new commissioners in January to lighten the load. However, after a 30 per cent jump in the number of cases filed in the past four years, the next three years saw the number reduced by 10 per cent. According to Leblanc, work on reducing the wait is continuing.
“We should return to a normal waiting period for cases by 2010,” he said.
He added that most leases are solved without Régie intervention.
“There are 1.3 million renters in Quebec, and only 77,000 cases last year.”
But Janine Millette, President of Action Dignité St-Léonard, said the long-term problem is that landlords take advantage of tenants who do not know their rights.
“Landlords profit from non-payment of rent,” said Millette. “Tenants don’t know they can just pay their bill [even if late], which means the landlords can kick them out and raise the rent.”
RCLALQ said that Quebec rents have gone up 16 to 25 per cent in the last five years. While the Régie releases the expected average increases for the different parts of Quebec, landlords can offer whatever rate they choose. If tenants do not exercise their right to ask for the rate of the previous lease, they will not know if they are being charged more than the Régie’s suggestion.
Without rent control, Millette said, the current working solution is to help inform people and advocate on their behalf.
“We help them prepare for their cases,” Millette said. “We will even attach the stamp.”