On March 16, a fatal fire broke out in a heritage building in Old Montreal, killing seven people. Although short-term rentals were banned in the area of Old Montreal where the building was located in 2018, several units of the building were illegally listed on Airbnb and occupied by guests at the time of the fire. Guests who had previously stayed in the building had reported or left comments about safety issues within the units to Airbnb, including no windows or windows that were glued shut, no emergency exit or outside access, and no fire extinguisher. However, these complaints were ignored by Airbnb, and no action was taken by the company to ensure that safety precautions were introduced to the units. The preventable deaths of seven people have spurred a broader conversation concerning the ramifications of short-term rentals such as Airbnb, which exacerbates the Montreal housing crisis while putting its customers’ lives at risk.
According to a report released by the Regroupement des comités logement et associations de locataires du Québec (RCLALQ) in 2023, 79 per cent of the 30,000 Airbnb listings in Quebec are illegal. These illegal rentals have been allowed to exist due to limited oversight and inspection by municipalities. In response to the fire, Airbnb is reportedly removing all unauthorized listings in Quebec and will require proof of a Corporation de l’industrie touristique du Québec (CITQ) permit to operate, although there has not been an indication as to when this will be completed. InsideAirbnb, a project that collects data on Airbnb properties and their effects on neighbourhoods, shows 57.7 per cent of short-term rentals across Montreal to be unlicensed as of March 31.
Airbnbs, among other short-term rentals, have been proven to impact local housing markets by reducing housing affordability in neighbourhoods. As more units are turned into pseudo-hotels, there is less housing available to meet the demands of renters, resulting in rent increases. In 2017, McGill’s Urban Politics and Governance Lab (UPGo) published a report that examined how the growth of Airbnb has impacted the housing markets in Montreal, Toronto, and Vancouver. According to the report, a number of neighbourhoods in Montreal “have seen two or three percent of their entire housing stock converted to de facto hotels.” Cédric Dussault, a co-spokesperson for RCLALQ, explained that vacancy rates in most regions in Quebec would be at three per cent or higher if units on Airbnb were put on the long-term rental market. Further, landlords have evicted residents or pressured them to move in order to convert units into short-term rentals because of their potential for a larger profit. For example, this past December, Hochelaga-Maisonneuve resident Jean-François Raymond received an eviction notice mandating that he leave his home of 22 years so that the apartment could be converted into an Airbnb. This incident is not unique; for example a former resident of the Old Montreal building reports that the landlord was attempting to evict tenants for Airbnb conversion.
The UPGo report further claimed that “Airbnb growth is completely outpacing new constructions.” Ultimately, the report called for a response from the municipal governments of Montreal, Toronto and Vancouver and their respective provinces; this response includes limiting the number of units a host is allowed to rent, restricting hosts from renting out their homes for a large portion of the year, and enforcing stricter regulation of the type of units on the market. Furthermore, following the fire, Mayor Valérie Plante acknowledged the need for the city of Montreal to do more to clamp down on illegal tourist accommodations. Plante additionally called on the provincial government and Revenu Québec to increase the number of its inspectors to investigate illegal Airbnb operators.
Airbnb is exacerbating existing issues that have made housing increasingly scarce and unaffordable across Quebec. “Renovictions,” a catch-all word used to describe the practice of kicking out tenants, making renovations, and then jacking up rents for those who move in, has become increasingly common in recent years. Neighbourhoods across Montreal are undergoing sustained or rapid gentrification, including Parc-Extension, Saint-Henri, and Pointe-Sainte-Charles. Displacement due to redevelopment – or, similarly, the conversion of long-term rentals into Airbnbs – disproportionately displaces BIPOC and low-income residents. In addition to displacement on a neighbourhood scale, individual tenants across Montreal consistently face renovictions and experience incidents where their rights are regularly infringed upon by landlords.
Airbnb has a long way to go to ensure the safety of its rental units – to prevent future tragedies from claiming the lives of renters – but there are things you can do to keep yourself and others safe should you choose to use the service. Report illegal listings if you encounter them on the site, and report any safety issues in a rental unit you have stayed in. If you are a tenant and your landlord is trying to evict you, contact RCLALQ. Their map provides a list of housing committees across Quebec and which one may be nearest to you. If you are a renter in Montreal, know your rights. You can consult the Comité logement du Plateau Mont-Royal, a neighbourhood-specific housing committee whose mission is to promote social housing and defend the rights of tenants in Plateau Mont-Royal by offering workshops and sharing information. SLAM-MATU is Montreal’s autonomous tenants union which uses direct action to fight landlords; you can join the union and attend weekly meetings through their Linktree. The Milton Parc Citizen’s Committee holds general bi-weekly meetings with SLAM-MATU. Mobilizing for Milton Parc is another great resource; it is an accessible, student-led organization that offers mutual aid services alongside renter’s rights advocacy.