It is no secret that tenants in Montreal encounter many challenges at the hands of neglectful and unprofessional landlords. The city has acknowledged this issue, establishing a plan in 2018 to increase fines for neglectful landlords up to $15,000. Last February, Montreal Mayor Valérie Plante presented further plans to “tighten the screws” on owners of rental buildings with eight or more units. These landlords will be required to comply with a new certification program that forces property owners to submit a summary of information every five years regarding the building’s sanitation, the price of rent, and the occupancy of units. However, this plan has been criticized by housing groups for being too gradual in its 2027 compliance deadline to combat the quickly increasing rent costs, according to CBC.
In 2021, a group of tenants organized the Montreal Autonomous Tenants Union (SLAM-MATU) to serve as a platform for tenants across the city to coordinate actions against landlords infringing on tenant rights. The union formed when McGill students renting in Milton-Parc decided to unionize against the illegal actions of landlords across the city. SLAM-MATU aims to work towards a world without the need for landlords, and therefore, without the need for collective actions that advocate for tenants rights. Despite these initiatives, Montreal tenants – including many university students – continue to endure hardships in dealing with landlords, often having their rights infringed upon.
At McGill, students who have completed their first year of studies are provided with very few opportunities to live on-campus. According to the Student Housing Market Report Canada, which has collected data on 14 student cities, student accommodation provision in Canada stands at 12 per cent. This number reflects the total number of purpose-built student accommodations in relation to the total number of students at the university. To rent an apartment near McGill in the Milton-Parc neighbourhood, students can pay upwards of $1,000 for a one-bedroom apartment. By failing to provide affordable student housing, McGill fails to provide students with adequate protection from exploitative landlords.
Difficulties Signing Leases
A Facebook group created in 2015, McGill Off-Campus Housing, currently boasts 52,947 members and serves as a place for students to browse rent listings, schedule showings, and post advertisements for subletting agreements. The group has seen roughly 10,000 posts in the past month, creating a copious amount of listings for students to sift through with no way to verify the legitimacy of the landlords. Because of this, some students have turned to a Reddit page titled “Landlord Blacklist,” which details students’ experiences with Montreal landlords, particularly in Milton-Parc.
Users of the Reddit page warn that landlords who have listings near McGill’s campus often seek to take advantage of out-of-province and international students who are looking to rent but lack the necessary know-how to avoid being exploited. One user wrote, “[I]n my experience the more a building advertises to out-of-province students, the more likely they are to [take] advantage of international students who don’t know their rights. Landlords of smaller buildings outside the [McGill] ghetto are used to dealing with tenants who actually know their rights and are typically not as bad.”
Charging often-illegal fees is a common tactic used by landlords to exploit students from outside of Quebec. Requiring security deposits from renters in Quebec is illegal, but it is common for landlords in Milton-Parc to ask tenants for a security deposit or rent payments in advance. An out-of-province second-year student told the Daily that when signing a lease with roommates (who are international students), the landlord acted unethically. “Right before signing our lease, our landlord said he wanted a $1,000 deposit. He said he knew it was “technically illegal in Quebec […] but that he asked for it anyway and expected it before we signed the lease. He did express that we’d get it back after our lease ended.” Another student posted that their landlord had charged a security deposit and did not give it back, instead trying to “charge us money to repaint and fix things that we allegedly broke (which we didn’t)” at the end of the lease.
On the other hand, some landlords will outright refuse to lease apartments to international students. One McGill student from France described this experience with the Daily, recounting a time when they tried to sign a lease with a landlord in Milton-Parc. “On the day my roommates and I were going to sign the lease, the landlord said it would not be possible.” According to the student, the landlord was only willing to rent to students from North America, despite it being illegal in Quebec to discriminate based on national origin. “I think it was xenophobic. I even have family living in Canada, but [they] were like: ‘no,’ because I’m French.”
Outside of the McGill area, newcomers to Montreal also face challenges when signing leases. In an interview with the Daily, Verdun resident Riham Al Bakouni shared her experience of immigrating to the city in 2016. “[…] it was impossible to sign a lease. I tried hard to rent a studio or a one bedroom apartment but it was impossible as they requested a guarantor to sign.” Many landlords will request that people applying to rent find a guarantor if they do not have Canadian credit history, pay stubs, or work experience. For those who have recently moved to the city, these expectations can be difficult to meet and often result in lowering their living standards.
Without being able to sign a lease, Al Bakouni endured further challenges as a tenant. She told the Daily, “I was new to the country and I did not know anyone here […] I first rented Airbnb rooms in shared apartments until I finally rented a room in an old lady[’s] apartment. After literally two weeks she changed her mind and kinda kicked me out. There was no lease signed, so she just returned what [was] left of the rent ($250 covering the 2 weeks left of the month).”
Challenges as a Tenant
Problems for tenants do not end once they sign a lease. Quebec law states that landlords are responsible for attending to repairs for the apartment at no cost to the tenant. However, tenants in Montreal will often live in hazardous conditions at the hands of negligent landlords who have not kept up with repairs. A renter in Milton-Parc posted, “When we refused to pay $170 for [the landlord] to paint one of our walls that was damaged, [they] locked my roommate in [their] office and threatened her, eventually saying [they were] going to deduct the money from her account (which they had access to for direct deposits of the rent).”
While it is not uncommon for landlords to charge tenants for repairs, some landlords will disregard the need for repairs entirely. This year, tenants living in townhouses in Berri were sent a letter from their landlord on October 7, 2022 that cited the danger of the building’s foundation, and were subsequently forced to evacuate by October 23. This came after their landlord repeatedly failed to adhere to the tenant’s initial complaints of damages to the building and repair needs. “To come to us with such little time that we don’t have the ability to react, to find housing or basic needs, to put us in this compromised (situation) because [the landlord] just didn’t act, for me that’s negligence,” one tenant told CityNews.
In the case that tenants are not evacuated and housing is not up to livable standards, tenants are susceptible to increased health risks and a lower quality of life – especially those living in low-income areas. In one case, the housing corporation, the Société d’habitation et de développement de Montréal (SHDM), took over the management of a building in Montreal’s Notre-Dame-De-Grâce neighbourhood in 2019. SHDM moved trash in the courtyards, closing the garbage rooms and garbage chutes. This introduced many flies, cockroaches, mice, and other pests to their building complex, affecting tenants’ living standards.
In Milton-Parc, tenants have experienced plumbing issues, ant infestations, and safety hazards such as a lack of working smoke detectors. A student-renter posted, “we had a plumber called in after the sewage line was blocked, and were told the pipes hadn’t been touched in ~10 years. He was supposed to have them checked once a year.” Landlords have little incentive to adhere to the repair requests of tenants, as turnover rates and competition for rents are high in Montreal. Many have been known to impede inspections, though fines for blocking this work can start at $1000.
While housing quality remains a struggle for many tenants, landlords are raising the cost of rent. In 2022, the average rate of annual rent increase as a whole was 10.9 per cent, following a 1.6 per cent average annual rent decline in both 2020 and 2021. Housing costs are already high in Montreal, and for many, there is a short time frame for finding affordable housing. It is highly competitive close to university campuses in Montreal, and in some cases, people are ‘making proposals and trying to sell themselves to landlords,’ Laurent Levesque told CityNews. Levesque adds that amidst this steep competition, bidding wars will sometimes occur between students for rent prices, contributing to inflation. With excess demand for housing in Montreal, especially near universities, landlords are given more power in who they choose to rent to and how much they charge.
Thousands of tenants in Montreal have been forced to leave their homes at the hands of landlords. According to the Montreal Gazette, although forced evictions with the purpose of renovating are illegal in Quebec, landlords are buying an increasing number of Montreal buildings to empty them out and renovate them in order to charge double the rent.. Landlords often get away with this, deceiving tenants who are unaware of their rights. Al Bakouni told the Daily that she was able to move apartments in 2017, however “[…] in April 2021, a new landlord purchased the building in an attempt to evict everyone, do surface-level renovations, and rent out the apartments for double the price.” Al Bakouni explained that in Verdun, there is a trend to ‘renovict,’ meaning that landlords will attempt to evict tenants to renovate apartments to increase what they can charge in rent. She told the Daily that her landlord initially offered $5000 to each tenant in her building as a means of renoviction. “He was deceptive – he did a door knocking for all tenants saying that the other tenants are leaving and this person is the only one left. He offered them $5000 to leave and gave an ultimatum of one month. Then the offer is off the table.” The tenants who chose to accept the money from the landlord are prohibited from discussing further, as they are “legally not allowed to,” according to Al Bakouni.
Tenants in Al Bakouni’s building began to discuss with each other and share their experiences with their landlord. “[The landlord] kept telling lies, lies and more lies. We had [a] roach infestation because of the renovations spread all over the building! We had to empty our apartments for the extermination team to spray the apartments. We had to take time off from our work, and keep packing/moving stuff, and all this was with no compensation whatsoever! This infestation took almost four to five months to end!” The landlord’s renovictions affected Al Bakouni to the point where she had to involve the city. She told the Daily, “During renovations, [the] noise was too loud and they used to work late after 10 P.M. – I contacted the city hall and the inspector sent a letter to the landlord, so they limited their work period to what is allowed by law.”
After these renovictions, Al Bakouni’s landlord charges nearly double her rent for tenants in the renovated apartments. “My rent is $750, while the apartment next door was rented out for $1,350 after the so-called renovations – which is outrageous,” Al Bakouni explained to the Daily. Their landlord attempted to increase their rent last year, but could not after they refused it. This year, Al Bakouni says, “I am going to refuse. I am just stalling until around the end of the 30-day delay period.” Unlike Al Bakouni, many tenants are unaware of their rights and are subjected to illegal tactics by landlords. According to Maxime Roy-Allard in an interview with The Link, landlords in Montreal send fake eviction notices to tenants, obtaining signatures under false pretenses and forcing renovictions. The landlords will also offer money to renovict tenants, which Al Bakouni describes happened in her building.
Al Bakouni told the Daily that one tenant in her building was offered $4000 (less than what they had initially offered) and afterwards signed a non-disclosure agreement. She added that another tenant “moved out because of the stress and he got a similar offer.” She also experienced harassment by the landlord. “When [the landlord] wanted me out – I said NO – he kept insisting on why I do not want to move! He offered that he [will take] care of packing stuff and moving expenses. He said I will provide you with compensation for years to come,” Al Bakouni told the Daily.
After Al Bakouni’s continued refusal to be renovicted, she has experienced legal pressure from her landlord. “The landlord kept threatening me because I have a business at home – although he is aware that it is purely online, and I do not have clients at home, neither I have a room dedicated to this purpose, no office set-up, yet he insisted on intimidating me and even opened a file at TAL [the city courthouse]. He was asking to end the lease! He has no legal basis and no rights yet he kept the case open until this date.”
As a result, Al Bakouni was forced into a hearing – the first in December 2021. Within the case, the landlord was requiring that she provide tenant insurance. “[M]y lease and the building regulations, NOTHING indicates that I have to get one! It basically gives me the option to purchase one, but it is not obligatory.” At a second hearing about the same case, Al Bakouni’s landlord did not show up: “Well, either there was a reason or he just felt it [was] a lost case.” Al Bakouni continues to fight a legal battle against their landlord.
To learn about tenant rights and protect against landlord exploitation, refer to the Daily’s article, “Renting 101: Montreal Tenant’s Rights.” You can also go to educaloi.qc.ca to find helpful information for navigating housing and property law. To contact an informations clerk regarding concerns about landlords, applications, and documents, reach out to the Tribunal administratif du logement.