A tenants' rights group in Montreal's Côte-des-Neiges neighbourhood is warning of a spike in cases of landlords taking advantage of asylum seekers.
Quebec's Immigration Ministry reports that more than 700 asylum seekers have recently found permanent housing as part of a recent wave of migrants arriving at Quebec's border with the United States.
The organization OEIL says it's heard from a number of them who have handed money from their first social assistance cheque over to landlords, but never got a receipt or even a copy of the lease.
"They absolutely need a copy of the lease to get their social welfare, because they need an address to send the cheque," said Kimmyanne Brown, a community worker with OEIL.
Others, Brown said, have paid money upfront to companies saying they had an apartment to rent, only to find out it was a room in an apartment shared with strangers.
First no lease, now no bathroom ceiling
One Haitian asylum-seeker who CBC has agreed not to name said he was not given a lease or a mailbox key after paying for an apartment, and the apartment itself is in poor shape.
"I was in the middle of taking a shower and the ceiling fell in," he said.
His landlord said he would come back and fix the problem, but never did.
He finally told the landlord that he wanted out of his lease, but the landlord told him they have a contract.
Radio-Canada says the landlord in question has 30 complaints lodged against him with Quebec's rental board, the Régie du logement.
Trust in Canadians makes asylum seekers vulnerable
Brown said asylum seekers come here thinking they can trust Canadians, and that makes them vulnerable.
"They come here and they feel welcome, so then they trust people and they give money and then the landlord take really great advantage of it," she said.
Brown said housing agencies are doing their best to help asylum seekers, but with their numbers are complicating those efforts.
With asylum seekers in lodgings all over Montreal at the moment, it's difficult to ensure they can get downtown for information sessions where they learn about their rights and how to find an apartment, Brown said.
"So, when they receive their cheques, they just hurry up and try and find an apartment," she said.
The head of ROMEL, an umbrella group representing community housing organizations, says more resources are needed to identify acceptable accommodations and ensure all asylum seekers get the assistance and information they need to find a decent home.
Mazen Houdeib said ROMEL is working with Quebec's landlords association, the APQ, and the province's landlords corporation, CORPIQ, to obtain references for reputable landlords — of which there are many, he emphasized.
But bad apples are out there, he acknowledged.
"Unfortunately, it's happened before, and it will happen again," Houdeib said.
"Some landlords abuse that this new tenant has no idea whatsoever what is his obligation [or] his rights in terms of a lease … this has happened since apartments existed, I believe."