Pointe-Saint-Charles building declared unfit for habitation in 2018 was listed on Airbnb
Owner denies property was being used for short-term rentals, but CBC investigation suggests otherwise
An unassuming beige apartment building on Centre Street in Pointe-Saint-Charles has been deemed unsafe for human habitation by the city, but until recently you could still rent a unit inside for $33 per night on Airbnb.
In February 2018, the City of Montreal issued a mandatory evacuation order forcing tenants in the building to vacate immediately because it was determined the property posed a risk to human life.
Problems with the building included an unsafe emergency exit, rats, insects, squatters and water damage.
After tenants were forced from the building, the city sent a list of repairs that the building's owner — Robert Spiro Zaphiratos — would need to complete before he could rent it out again.
Montreal "has not lifted the prohibition on renting apartments in the building at 2520-2530 Centre Street. The building remains considered as uninhabitable," city spokesperson Audrey Gauthier said in a statement Thursday.
But CBC News spoke to two people at the Centre Street building who said they are from the United States and booked an apartment in the building through Airbnb.
CBC has confirmed that the apartment in which the American tourists were staying is the same as one listed on Airbnb.
Bruce Taub, a lawyer with BTLG law group in Montreal, spoke to CBC on behalf of the company that owns the building on Centre Street, and another on Chateauguay Street that is also supposed to be vacant.
Taub confirmed that the numbered company that owns the buildings is a family trust started by Spiro Zaphiratos.
Speaking with CBC Thursday morning, Taub said to his knowledge no one was living in either of the properties.
Taub said repair work was done on the Centre Street building following the evictions in February 2018. He acknowledged that "the City of Montreal's position on this is that the building is still uninhabitable."
Councillor 'shocked' people are in the building
Sud-Ouest city councillor Craig Sauvé told CBC News on Thursday afternoon that the borough is aware of the illegal listing on Centre Street and has made requests in the past to have rental units in the building taken off Airbnb.
"It's shocking to hear that people are still there," said Sauvé, who specified that the building is not up to code and not authorized for any kind of rental, short-term or otherwise.
"It's frankly ridiculous that the owner in full knowledge of this is using it for either Airbnb or any residence," he said. "In this case, we have someone who is ... not following the rules at all."
The property's owner continues to deny, through his lawyer, that anyone is living at the property.
A spokesperson for Airbnb told CBC that they have in the past received requests from Montreal to remove listings in the building.
A spokesperson says the company tried to contact the city for more information when a new listing was brought to their attention but did not get a response.
Airbnb confirmed the recent listings were taken down on Thursday after CBC News contacted the company about them.
Fight at the rental board
The conflict over the illegal short-term rental is only part of an ongoing saga involving former tenants of Spiro Zaphiratos' company.
Several have been fighting for compensation after being forced to leave the two buildings his company owns, both of which were deemed to be uninhabitable.
Manuel Johnson, the legal aid lawyer who has been representing the tenants for nearly two years, said that the Régie du logement, the province's rental board, heard the case of the tenants and granted them almost $100,000 in damages.
The compensation, to be split among seven tenants, is meant to cover retroactive rent reduction for the conditions they were living in, relocation costs and punitive damages.
"They were paying a rent that did not represent the actual value of the apartments," said Johnson. "What is the actual value of an apartment that is unsafe for human habitation?"
He called the rental board's decision a "severe measure" and said that it proves how badly his clients were treated.
"This owner did not have enough respect for them to give them a safe place to live," he said.
Spiro Zaphiratos' lawyers tried to appeal the rental board's decision in Quebec Court but were denied.
Johnson said despite the damages awarded by the rental board, none of his clients have seen any money.
He said Spiro Zaphiratos' is delaying by asking for a revocation from the rental board, claiming he has new evidence to present.
Until the December revocation hearing, the file is essentially frozen.
Giulia Giorgi, a former tenant who lived in the Centre Street building for three years, said she felt "betrayed" when she learned how many problems and safety issues there were.
"One of the workers who was working on the roof fell right through my ceiling into my bedroom one day," she recalled. After that she slept in her living room for months, afraid for her safety.
"The roof could have caved in anytime that I was sleeping in my room at night."
She said all she wants is her fair compensation after what she went through.
"We did win our case but they keep stalling."
Based on reporting by Matt D'Amours