Applebaum's critics aren't buying 'honest mistakes'
Mayor says he had no obligation to disclose $65,000 duplex flip
At least one Montreal politician says Michael Applebaum no longer has the moral authority to sit as mayor, after Radio-Canada revelations showing he didn't declare certain assets and didn't obtain necessary building permits a decade ago, when he was on the Côte-des-Neiges—Notre-Dame-de-Grace borough council.
Under municipal disclosure rules, elected officials have to submit a list of their assets once a year. However, a property in Montreal, on which Applebaum and his family made a gross profit $65,000 in 2004, wasn't included on that list.
Applebaum, a former real estate agent, bought a duplex in Villeray for $80,000 in December 2003, according to Radio-Canada. Four months later, he sold it for $145,000.
"He told us that he made some renovations, so we checked and we double checked if he got some permits on that," said Radio-Canada's senior investigative journalist Alain Gravel.
"His father was in charge of the work and we checked and we didn't find any permits on that."
Applebaum said that oversight was an honest mistake. He said he changed some of the windows and a back door, which, according to the Villeray borough, requires a permit.
"If that is the case, I was not aware of it," the mayor told CBC Montreal's Daybreak, adding that, even as an elected official, he doesn't know the details of every municipal requirement.
"I'm sure there are also thousands of other people who don't realize this. I will pay the city if I owe them a couple hundred dollars for a permit to replace windows. I will do so."
Applebaum said he bought the property and renovated it with his son and his father. The net profit made, after deducting taxes and other expenses, was $26,000, he said.
"It wasn't a major amount of money. Yes, it was a good profit, but I had to work at it. I had to renovate it. I had to manage it. I had to maintain it and I had to pay my taxes on it," he said.
Mayor's 'Applecart' business should have been declared
That duplex and, years later, a business called Applecart, weren't included in Applebaum's declaration records – an annual list that elected officials must submit to the city
When it came to the duplex, Applebaum said he didn't include it because, when he made the declaration for that year, he no longer owned it.
"The laws were very clear – I did not have to declare this property because I was not the owner at the time of the declaration."
Applecart, he said, was established to purchase a property in the Laurentians where he wanted to build a country house. Any property outside of Montreal does not fall under the disclosure requirements for elected officials in the city, he said.
However, businesses registered in Montreal, as Applecart was, do fall under those rules.
"Where I made the mistake, and it's an honest mistake, is instead of buying it under my own name, I opened a company which I was administrator," he said. "That's where I should have declared. I didn't understand that part of the law."
Pay the price for mistakes, opponents say
However, Projet Montréal leader Richard Bergeron doesn't buy that explanation.
"This guy was a real estate agent — professional real estate agent," said Bergeron. "He knows this law."
Bergeron says Applebaum should face a fine for his omissions, but St-Laurent borough mayor Alan DeSousa — who has butted heads with the mayor several times over the past few months — suggests Applebaum has a political price to pay for those mistakes.
"He's lost the moral authority to assume the role that he has," said DeSousa. "It becomes hard to manage the city when you're ealing with this type of event day after day."
Daniel Chenard, a lawyer who specializes in municipal affairs, said that, at minimum, Applebaum should have proactively declared the duplex on the forms.
"The declaration may seem to be nitpicking to the general public, but this the only way we can know unless you investigate yourself. . . what an elected official is doing while he or she is in power – what are the transactions he made," he said.
Applebaum said it was all a misunderstanding and he had no intention of breaking the law.
He said he is looking into the situation and, if he was in the wrong, "I will settle it. I will fix it."
As for DeSousa's suggestion he quit, Applebaum dismissed that as "completely ridiculous."
He is adamant he will stay on as mayor until November — a role he took on, vowing to clean up City Hall.