Downtown Montreal merchants' association calls for stricter rules on abandoned buildings

After two vacant buildings caught fire in downtown Montreal in two days, the area's merchants' association wants landlords and owners to be held to account.

Fires have to stop before someone dies, association executive director says

A fire broke out at Montreal's Super Sexe strip club on the night of Oct. 30.

The downtown Montreal merchants' association is demanding mayoral candidates set the record straight on how they will tackle fires in vacant buildings, after two properties in the area went up in flames.

Glen Castanheira, executive director of the SDC Montréal Centre-Ville, says that for nearly a decade, the association has been calling on the city to adopt strict rules for landlords who choose to keep their buildings vacant.

"We're seeing a red hot real estate market that is having prices explode, which results in some properties being worth so much money that it is much more profitable to keep them vacant and wait for a buyout or a new project to be proposed rather than renting it out."

He says Montreal is one of the rare cities in North America that doesn't have strict rules to keep landlords responsible for the upkeep of properties they leave unoccupied.

Over a span of two days, two vacant buildings on Sainte-Catherine Street, the city's biggest commercial artery, caught fire.

The first was on Oct. 29, in the east end, at the corner of Sainte-Catherine and de la Visitation streets. The second, on Oct. 30, gutted the historic and defunct Super Sexe strip club, located at 690 Sainte-Catherine Street West, in the downtown core.

Nicolas Angers, whose new gym, Boxxing, is near the old strip club, says its initial opening set for March 2020 was delayed by the pandemic until Oct. 4, 2021. Now, he has to close its doors for another week.

Nicolas Angers, right, co-owner and founder of Boxxing, says smoke from the fire at the Super Sexe strip club has forced him to shut down his gym for a week. (Submitted by Nicolas Angers)

"Our studio per se... hasn't been directly affected by the fire, but there's been smoke that went inside, so this smell is really important," he said.

"We're still lucky in all this because we didn't go on fire. But yeah, it's very difficult,"

Castanheira says he'd like to see all three mayoral candidates visit Sainte-Catherine Street this week and announce what they'll do within the first 100 days of their mandate to combat the challenges the downtown Montreal landscape is facing.

"We've seen it on the Plateau... we've seen it all over," he said. "This has to stop before someone dies and before something worse happens."

Promises to heighten measures

At a news conference Monday, Projet Montréal leader Valérie Plante said her party would employ a rent registry and an occupation certificate, which would force landlords and building owners to maintain their buildings' interiors in good condition.

"What we want to do is to support businesses to buy [spaces] where they're doing business so we can have more power over those empty places," she said.

Mayoral candidate Denis Coderre, leader of Ensemble Montréal, said Monday the city needs an administration that's "present" and that would listen to merchants' concerns to put an end to recurring fires in vacant buildings.

"I understand why Glen from downtown Montreal complained, because we sent messages to elected officials and the administration and they did nothing — and that's worrisome," he said.

"When we're talking about a plan of vigilance and security, it also means fighting poor sanitation and making sure there are more security cameras, and it means we're working proactively rather than reactively."

With files from Fenn Mayes, Josh Grant and CBC Montreal's Daybreak