Exclusive

No electricity for tenants of shabby Montreal rooming house billed as 'mansion'

They were promised a mansion in the heart of Montreal, but a half dozen tenants in a downtown rooming house have been without power for 10 days and counting, because the electricity bill hasn't been paid.

Building owner blames Roominex rental agency for unpaid Hydro bill, saying he hasn't been paid in a year

This is the photo on the Roominex.com website depicting the property on Côte-des-Neiges Road across from the Montreal General Hospital, advertised as a 'mansion' called Asgard House. (Roominex.com)

They were promised a mansion in the heart of Montreal, but a half dozen tenants of a downtown rooming house have been without power for 10 days and counting, because the electricity bill hasn't been paid.

The building's owner blames Roominex, a Montreal short-term rental agency that sublets rooms in the building, saying the agency rented the building from him but hasn't paid him in more than a year.

None of the tenants would talk to CBC on the record. Some are foreign students, and they fear complaining could threaten their immigration status.

They've been living with no electricity since it was cut on May 7.

Not exactly as advertised

The Roominex website describes the property on Côte-des-Neiges Road across from the Montreal General Hospital as "a huge mansion which offers an extremely unique way to live communally and socially."

"You will NEVER find anything else like this in Downtown Montreal," it goes on.
These photographs are posted on the Roominex.com website, ostensibly depicting rooms in the Asgard 'mansion.' It says 'all bills and utilities' are included in the rent price, as are other services, including unlimited high-speed wireless internet and regular cleaning. (Roominex.com)

From the outside, the building does indeed appear to be a stately two-storey mansion. 

Inside, it's threadbare and decrepit.  The spartan rooms are furnished only with scratched and dented single beds and small desks. The closets have no doors.
One bathroom in the rooming house appears to be used as a storage closet. (CBC)

One bathroom seems to be used for storage, with dusty junk piled in the sink and on the toilet.

In the common kitchen, the smell of rotting food is overpowering, with the fridge out of commission since the power was cut.
The smell of rotting food in the house is overpowering since electricity was cut May 7. (CBC)

Building doesn't have proper permit

The tenants say they pay their monthly rent, including first and last month's rent up front, to Roominex.

On the Roominex website, founder Christian Levasseur bills the company as "a world where smart houses and networking combine to meet a common goal of social sustainability."

The website, which caters to students and travellers, advertises short-term rentals in more than 15 Montreal buildings.

On the city's valuation roll, the Côte-des-Neiges property is listed as a single domicile.

In actual fact, it's divided into 14 rooms available to rent, with five people living there now.
The simply furnished rooms don't necessarily evoke a 'mansion.' (CBC)

According to the city, no permit was ever issued to that address to operate as a rooming house.

Building owner blames Roominex

In documents filed in 2017 with the Régie du logement, the provincial agency that regulates building safety codes, the owner of the building, Maan Malouf, alleged that Roominex owed him $16,000 in unpaid rent on the property.

The Régie rejected Malouf's request at the time, saying there was no clear contract between him and Roominex.

CBC spoke to Malouf briefly by telephone Wednesday.  

He said he couldn't pay the building's electricity bills because he hadn't been paid rent in more than a year. He said the matter was before the courts and referred CBC to his lawyer, who did not return calls.

Previous complaints

Roominex and Levasseur have been in trouble with the Quebec's rental housing regulator, the Régie de Logement, before.

Levasseur has a pattern of renting rooms, purportedly to live in himself, and then subletting them without informing landlords.

In 2016, the Régie ordered Levasseur and a business partner to pay $2,000 in damages to a Côte-des-Neiges building owner, after the owner discovered Levasseur was renting out short-term rooms to travellers and students.

In 2015, the Régie ordered Levasseur  to vacate another property he was renting and subsequently subletting to multiple people as a short-term rental. The owner only discovered the property was being subletted when he came to fix a leak.

In that case, the Régie ordered Levasseur to pay just over $2,500 in damages.

Expert says fines 'inconsequential'

Ted Wright, a Montreal tenants' rights expert, told CBC he thinks the regulations need to be tightened.
Montreal tenants' legal rights expert Ted Wright says the rules around rooming-house rentals need to be tightened — and the fines increased. (CBC)

"The rules are not strong enough. The fines are inconsequential. It won't stop others doing the same thing," Wright said.

Roominex replied to CBC's interview request in a one-line email statement, which reads: "the matter is with the lawyers so we cannot elaborate," but that it "strives to ensure all members" enjoy their space.

Meanwhile, Roominex is continuing to operate. Its website shows availability at Asgard House throughout the spring and summer.

"Roominex is guided by the integrity of its founder and marks the ideal organization to bring this cardinal endeavour to the world," the company's website says.

 "This is an evolving mission because to Christian, a home is much like a canvas to an artist — it's never finished." 

Comments

To encourage thoughtful and respectful conversations, first and last names will appear with each submission to CBC/Radio-Canada's online communities (except in children and youth-oriented communities). Pseudonyms will no longer be permitted.

By submitting a comment, you accept that CBC has the right to reproduce and publish that comment in whole or in part, in any manner CBC chooses. Please note that CBC does not endorse the opinions expressed in comments. Comments on this story are moderated according to our Submission Guidelines. Comments are welcome while open. We reserve the right to close comments at any time.