The City of Montreal has agreed to give a renovation subsidy to a landlord who is being challenged in court by a former tenant.

Landlord Tim Canaj pleaded not guilty before Quebec Superior Court Thursday after a former tenant accused him of being in contempt of court for failing to obey multiple orders from the Quebec rental board. His wife and co-accused, Teujta Canaj, has also entered a not guilty plea.

Both Tim and Teujta Canaj were ordered to appear back in court on Feb. 18th.

The case stems from a building inspection done in June 2012 that led to a family having to evacuate their home.

The inspector at that time deemed Singh's family home unfit for habitation and ordered them to evacuate the premises.

'That building is very emblematic of the new approach from City of Montreal… Before giving any ticket, they're going to offer a subsidy.' - André Trépanier, tenants' rights advocate

"The state of this apartment could threaten your health and safety," the inspector wrote in his evacuation notice.

But instead of using coercive or punitive measures against the landlord — such as fines, a notice of deterioration, or forcing renovations and billing the landlord — the City of Montreal agreed to give Canaj a subsidy to help pay for renovations.

The subsidy, worth more than $130,000, will only be granted once the work is completed and the building located at 7905 Querbes Ave. is brought up to code.

Tenants' rights advocates said they're frustrated with the way the City of Montreal handles these types of cases. 

"That building is very emblematic of the new approach from City of Montreal… Before giving any ticket, they're going to offer a subsidy," said André Trépanier, a tenants' rights advocate with the Parc-Extension Action Committee. 

"Sometimes we think, in the mind of central city… tenants from Montreal [are] not important. It is the building and the relations with the owner [that are important]."

City not available for comment

Singh photos

These photos, of Tejinder Singh's old apartment, were taken by a city inspector before he was ordered to evacuate for his own safety. The inspector's report listed off a dozen issues with the apartment, including damaged floors, walls, and a broken window. (Régie du Logement)

The Montreal executive committee member in charge of housing, Russell Copeman, was not available to comment because he is out of the country. 

CBC News requested a written statement or an interview with another member of the executive committee, but those requests were denied.

The city did confirm that it plans to give the landlord a subsidy, but only if the work is completed.

It also said that it had sent 138 non-conformity notices to the landlord, and inspectors are following up regularly to make sure renovations are progressing.

Landlord says he's working day and night

The landlord told CBC News he's already put close to $500,000 worth of work into the building, and he's working constantly to fix up the building.

"I'm a working guy… I did so many renovations here in three years, I was working 16-hour days," said landlord Tim Canaj.

He said when he bought the building in 2011, he didn't realize that it was so run-down.

"I got this building falling apart — no balconies, all the plumbing in very bad shape, leaks everywhere."

Canaj said money has been tight for him, and it's difficult to do expensive renovations without increasing the rent. 

Tenant takes matters into his own hands

singh apartment bernstien superior court

The city forced Tejinder Singh, his pregnant wife and his daughter to temporarily move out of their apartment for their own safety until the repairs were done. (Jaela Bernstien / CBC )

While the City of Montreal works with the landlord, Singh is taking matters into his own hands.

He appeared before the Superior Court today to challenge his landlord. Canaj on Thursday asked for a delay until Feb. 18.

Tenants advocates said it's rare for tenants to take a case to that level. Usually, advocates say, tenants give up and move on. 

If Singh is successful, it's possible his case will give more power to future rental board decisions.

"If they get a judgment that is in their favour, it will help other people in court, because they'll say ‘Look, this is what happened in Superior Court, my case is similar, so I have to have the same kind of justice given to me,’" said Ted Wright, a tenants' rights advocate with the Westmount Legal Clinic.

Singh told CBC News that his landlord failed to reimburse him close to $3,000, owed for the decrepit conditions of Singh's old apartment, plus the trouble that Singh went through when his home was suddenly evacuated.

Singh also said his landlord terminated his lease, against an order by the Quebec rental board.