Montreal

Hampstead bylaw amendment aims to protect tenants against renovictions

Hampstead Mayor Jeremy Levi says the town will require landlords to show written proof that a tenant has agreed to be relocated if proposed work would require the tenant to move. Tenants' groups say more than that is needed to protect all tenants.

Tenants' groups applaud move but say more needs to be done to close loopholes

Hampstead Mayor Jeremy Levi says the town will crack down on landlords who try to skirt Quebec's housing tribunal rules. (Sarah Leavitt/CBC)

Hampstead council plans to amend a bylaw to provide more protection for tenants against illegal evictions carried out under the guise of renovations — often called renovictions.

Before the town provides construction permits to landlords whose work would require a tenant to move, it will make them provide written proof that the tenant has agreed to be relocated.

"We're just adding another layer of protection for tenants who don't really know the law," said Hampstead Mayor Jeremy Levi.

Levi points to the case last week that prompted council to take action. A Hampstead resident who has been living in their unit for about 35 years reached out to the municipality saying their landlord was attempting to kick them out due to major renovations. 

Levi says when the town examined the permit application, the landlord had said the unit was vacant and that work was to be done on a small closet.

The permit was immediately cancelled, Levi says, and a plan was hatched to crack down on illegal evictions. 

"We will not issue a permit until we are satisfied that the tenant has been or will be properly relocated," he said.

Levi emphasizes this is not a new law, but an amendment to an existing bylaw for those "few landlords" who don't follow it. 

As it stands, Quebec's administrative housing tribunal (TAL) requires that a tenant agree to move for renovations before any work can begin. 

If the tenant refuses and the landlord takes the case to the TAL and wins, Levi says the town will abide by the ruling.

Consent, but not really 

Housing advocate and spokesperson for the coalition of housing committees and tenants' associations of Quebec (RCLALQ), Martin Blanchard, says renovictions are a very big problem on the island of Montreal and are happening almost daily. 

He says while Hamsptead's proposed amendment is "a step in the right direction" in addressing the worsening phenomenon, it still provides loopholes.

Blanchard says without surveillance of private conversations between landlords and tenants, landlords can use pressure tactics and false information to convince tenants that they must consent to moving out. Moreover, landlords can present them with compensation much lower than what they might have received had they brought the case to the TAL. 

Martin Blanchard, a housing advocate, says landlords can still take advantage of tenants by pressuring them to consent to moving out. (CBC)

"There's a power imbalance between the landlord and the tenant, and this is why the agreements that are signed are mostly bad for the tenants," he said. 

For Guillaume Dostaler, co-ordinator of the tenants' rights' group Entraide logement Hochelaga-Maisonneuve, Hampstead's move to ensure tenants have somewhere to go during renovations is a good idea, as finding somewhere to live short-term is difficult. 

Landlords make tenants think that they have no choice.- Guillaume Dostaler, co-ordinator of

But he echoes Blanchard's sentiments about getting written consent from the tenant. 

"Unfortunately, lots of tenants will accept to sign a paper to make them leave the site permanently because landlords make tenants think that they have no choice," he said.

"This is a situation we see too much."

Changing law, knowing your rights

Blanchard proposes scrapping the written consent provision and having municipalities provide permits only to owners who get a judgment from the TAL authorizing the project. 

"This protects the tenants a lot more … and this is totally within the powers of what the cities can do," he said. "Right now, the permit is issued and we don't even know if it's a legal project."

Blanchard says putting an end to renovictions, however, starts with changing the province's Civil Code along with implementing a Quebec rental registry, similar to the one Montreal is slated to begin rolling out next summer.

Dostaler says another big problem is that often, tenants don't know their rights.

Hampstead has added a section to its website called "your rights as a tenant,' but Dostaler says seniors, who can be vulnerable to pushy landlords, can struggle to find this information when it's solely online.

He proposes municipalities get pamphlets to tenants' doors with the information instead. 

"I think they should be more proactive," he said. 

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Sabrina Jonas

Digital reporter

Sabrina Jonas is a digital reporter with CBC Montreal. She was previously based at CBC Toronto after graduating from Toronto Metropolitan University's School of Journalism. Sabrina has a particular interest in social justice issues and human interest stories. Drop her an email at sabrina.jonas@cbc.ca

With files from CBC's Daybreak

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