Mile End tenants say life in apartment intolerable since new owners took over
Tenants not given proper notice to move out now face legal threats, removed locks, even police visits
The tenants call it a battle of David versus Goliath.
Since their Mile End apartment building was taken over by new owners last fall, they say they've been "living through hell," in what they believe are repeated attempts to force them to leave.
Locks have been removed from the front and back doors. Garbage has been left to pile up, both inside the building and out.
The interior of the building has almost been entirely gutted, with construction starting as early as 6 a.m. and going until midnight.
However, the tenants say, most stressful are the legal threats they've endured for considering bringing their story to the media.
"The owner did everything possible to make us feel like we don't belong," said one tenant, who's been living there for more than two years.
Fear of repercussions
CBC News has spoken with several tenants and has agreed not to name them or say where they live, because of their fear of repercussions from their new landlord.
In September 2017, tenants were notified that a real estate management company had bought the building.
In the new year, tenants said they started to receive notices, either by a phone call or a note stuck to their door, saying that they had three months to vacate their apartment.
Under Quebec's rental laws, if a lease is for more than six months, a landlord must provide tenants with at least six months' warning and written notice, which must include the tenant's full name and address, as well as the date by which they have to leave.
The Comité Logement du Plateau Mont-Royal has gotten involved with the tenants in this case.
"Right now, it's 100 per cent illegal, the amount of pressure the tenants are enduring so that they'll leave," said Vicky Langevin, an organizer for the tenants rights group.
The tenants "have every right to remain in their home," she said. "It's undeniable."
Of the 20 tenants who were living in the building when the ownership changed, only four remain.
'Extremely, extremely, extremely stressful'
For the past few months, one tenant has opened the apartment door only to stare at two completely gutted apartments across the hall.
Walls have been stripped. Dust covers the floor, and in some cases, wires have been pulled from the wall.
"Every morning is a surprise," the tenant said.
"You never know what you're going to find."
Another tenant, who's been living in the building since 2009, said holes were made in their walls, and debris fell into their bathtub from renovation work being done on the floor above.
"It's been extremely, extremely, extremely stressful," that tenant said.
"I haven't been able to get much sleep. What's happened is that because there are no security locks, sometimes at night, people come and knock at my door, at odd hours."
Another tenant sent a legal letter of formal notice to the owners in June.
That tenant claims workers came into the apartment without the required 24 hours' notice, and water and electricity have been cut without any warning. The legal letter outlines a long list of problems.
"It seems obvious that all these inconveniences have been put in place to intimidate me and force me to leave my home," the tenant wrote in the letter.
"These incidents constitute, in my opinion, harassment."
Police called after CBC visit
When CBC went to visit one of the tenants in the building, people identifying themselves as being in charge of the construction tried to intervene during the interview.
"You don't have the right to film here," one of them said.
After explaining we were inside a private apartment and had been invited in by the tenant, the men told CBC they would call police.
Later, outside the apartment, one of the men approached the tenant.
"Are you ready to go all the way?" he asked, referring to possible legal action.
"You know that the company, they will also go all the way."
The tenant says about two hours after CBC News left, two police officers showed up.
The next morning, another tenant received a phone call from a confidential number.
The female caller simply said, "Legal action will be taken for defamation" before hanging up.
The company that owns the building did not respond to multiple interview requests from CBC News.
But in a letter of formal notice sent to one tenant after that tenant had written to them with a list of complaints, a lawyer for the company calls the tenant's allegations unfounded.
"Your allegations of bullying and harassment are not based on any concrete facts," the letter states.
"They are rather, pure fiction from your fertile imagination."
The lawyer goes on to say if the tenant were to go to the media with the list of complaints, it would not be "without consequences," adding that the owners would be forced to take legal action.
Right to stay
Langevin, the tenants' rights advocate, says a good first step in tackling this type of issue is going to the borough over issues of building safety and permits. However, she says, the borough is limited in what it can do for tenants.
Langevin says the next step is to go to Quebec's rental board, the Régie du logement. She says, however, a double standard exists there.
"A landlord who goes to the Régie for a non-payment of rent can get a hearing within two months," she said.
A tenant who wants to sue a landlord for harassment or pressure to vacate without proper notice can often wait up to 21 months for a hearing.
Langevin says these types of problems are not limited to this particular situation at the Mile End apartment building, but it's one of the worst cases she's seen in her advocacy work.
She says 16 per cent of the work the Comité undertakes in regard to tenants' rights involves tenants' attempts to remain in their home after a new owner purchases the building.
"Unfortunately, that's the consequence of gentrification of the Plateau and real estate speculation," she said.
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The Comité is holding a news conference later today to speak out about five buildings recently taken over by new owners where tenants are being pressured to leave.