Building owners looking to give their old Plateau-Mont-Royal properties an extreme makeover are running into a new bylaw that makes extensive renovations a very expensive affair.

In November, Montreal city council signed off on a new bylaw on preserving and improving the borough's parks. Under the rules, when a homeowner conducts an extensive renovation project, it could be considered the same as a demolition.

“The Plateau-Mont-Royal started considering most wider work as demolition of the building,” says Yannick Laurin of La Shed Architecture, a Plateau-based company known for its modernization of old buildings.

“So whenever you want to rework your façade for wider openings or reinforce your roof, for example doing a roof terrace or a green roof, they consider it demolition,” he continues.

Plateau city councillor Alex Norris says the changes affect a small minority of renovation projects. He says less than one per cent of the total permits issued by the borough are extensive enough to quality as demolitions. 

He says the bylaw is necessary to both protect the heritage building stock in the borough as well as to put the brakes on gentrification gone into overdrive.

“We have an extremely valuable heritage housing stock on the Plateau that is undergoing threat from what we call disguised demolitions — they’re demolitions that are disguised as simple renovations,” Norris says.

He says the borough conducted a study that estimates roughly 600 households a year are pushed out from the affordable rental housing on the Plateau because of gentrification.

He says that push is causing the borough to lose some of the character, or as he calls it, “social mixity” that makes the borough so distinct.

Demo vs. reno

The lower 35 per cent threshold (of the total area of walls and roof that are demolished in order for the project to be considered a demolition) kicks in when a certain amount of floor area or load-bearing walls are also moved or destroyed. To see the full rules, click here.

In such cases, property owners have to pay a park fee to the borough which costs 10 per cent of the value of the land.

Norris says people who have the financial resources to gut a duplex or triplex can surely afford to pay the park fee, which goes toward improving local green spaces.

“The park fees capture some of that wealth for the public interest to ensure that we have a source of revenue to improve our parks,” he says.

And so Plateau residents unaware of the bylaw are being faced with a big surprise when they get into the beginning stages of making renovations.

“We were really surprised. We never heard about that before so it was quite a shock to find out that our project, which is relatively small in terms of renovations, would be subject to this new tax. In fact the city would consider our project pretty much equal to driving a bulldozer through our house and starting from scratch,” says resident Daniel Mayer, who has lived in the same Plateau home for 20 years.

Costly endeavour

Mayer had contacted La Shed to perform renovations to his bathroom and kitchen, as well as put in a skylight and do other minor repairs. However, they land him dangerously close to the 35 per cent rule. If his project ends up being considered a demolition, he will have to pay $23,000 in park fees.

Mayer says he was also warned by La Shed that if the project is in fact considered a demolition, he would have to pay to put in new sewage pipes.

Still, Norris maintains it’s really not much to ask for when the renovations will, ultimately, likely add hundreds of thousands of dollars to the value of the property.

“We don’t think it’s unreasonable to say that a certain amount of that wealth you’re generating should return to the public,” he says.