Montreal faces uphill battle against squalid housing

Despite launching an action plan two years ago to force landlords to take more responsibility for repairing their buildings, new data shows that the number of landlords who refuse to make city-mandated repairs is increasing.

City launched action plan to force landlords to take more responsibility in 2014

In 2014, water dripped into the kitchen of this Ranger Street apartment for days. Montreal city officials say inspectors are now doing more thorough checks of derelict rental housing. (Jaela Bernstien/CBC)

It's been two years since the City of Montreal launched an action plan to force delinquent landlords to repair their buildings.

However, the city's own data for 2015 shows the number of repairs not being taken care of within a reasonable amount of time has actually gone up – from 18 per cent in 2014 to 20 per cent in 2015.

A 'lengthy process'

Montreal's executive committee member responsible for housing, Russell Copeman, says the main reason for that is that landlords with unresolved problems often drag their heels once the courts get involved.

"Once a file has been transferred to the courts, everything stops. Most owners say at that point, 'I'm not doing any work. I'll wait and see what the court order says,'"Copeman said.

"That's a lengthy process."

Though the overall number of inspections being done has dropped dramatically since 2014, from 1,589 in 2014 to 592 in 2015, Copeman says inspections are now much more intense. (CBC )

Copeman was part of the team that launched the 2014 plan to crack down on unsanitary housing in Montreal, with the goal of improving the lives of tenants and the quality of Montreal's housing stock.

He said the plan calls for a change in approach, beginning with more thorough inspections and then focusing on working with building owners to make a plan to get repairs done.

"Sometimes these owners are just overwhelmed by the state of their buildings, so they need help," said Copeman.

"That's the new approach. It's a longer approach. It takes more time, but it pays off in the end."

City inspectors now use tools such as thermal cameras and humidity detectors to detect problems such as mould and water leakage. (CBC)

Copeman points to other evidence the city's plan is working.

For example, since 2012 city inspectors have more than doubled the number of infractions they've identified in each home they visit.

Penalties are also stiffer, with fines for recalcitrant landlords going up by 25 to 50 per cent in 2015.

'Nothing has really improved,' says tenants' advocate 

However, Maxime Roy-Allard, a community organizer with the Regroupement des Comités Logement et Associations de Locataires du Québec (RCLALQ), says he doesn't see any improvements for tenants on the ground.

"We've been waiting for three years for the city to give us a global portrait of the situation in apartments in Montreal – because it could be 40 per cent of apartments are in really bad condition, but we don't have the numbers," Roy-Allard said.

He said he'd like to see the city take a tougher stance with landlords.

Bed bug problem continues

In 2014, 30 per cent of Montreal tenants dealt with unsanitary conditions, with the biggest problems being mould, rodents, bed bugs and cockroaches. (CBC )

Bed bugs continue to be a problem in Montreal, Roy-Allard said.

"Many, many tenants wait months, sometimes years, before their bedbug problem is solved. That's unacceptable," he said. "They need to force landlords to solve the problems as soon as possible."

Councillor Karine Boivin-Roy, who also worked on the city's action plan, described the bedbug issue as "stable."

She said the city is distributing pamphlets and advertising in Metro stations, with the hope that less people bring bed bugs into their homes during Montreal's moving season.