Montreal·CBC Investigates

Quebec court orders demolition of historic Plateau greystone, repairs to its twin

A Quebec Superior Court justice has ordered Guy Desrosiers, who still lives on the ground floor of one of the fenced-off heritage buildings he's owned since the early 1970s, to demolish one building and to restore and repair the other.

Owner still lives on ground floor of one of unsafe properties that have been fenced off for years

After decades of trying to force the owner of these heritage buildings on de l'Esplanade Avenue to repair them, the City of Montreal has won a court order that dictates how the owner must proceed. (Loreen Pindera/CBC)

A 34-year battle over two crumbling and neglected greystone buildings on the Plateau Mont-Royal may be drawing to a close.

A Quebec Superior Court justice has ordered Guy Desrosiers, who's owned the heritage buildings at 4403-4423 de l'Esplanade Avenue since the late 1970s, to demolish one of the three-storey buildings and to restore and repair its twin.

"It's an important step," said Projet Montréal Coun. Alex Norris.

Decades-long saga

Since it issued its first fine to Desrosiers back in 1984, the city has tried to get the owner to maintain the residential buildings, which are directly across from the tennis courts in Jeanne-Mance Park.

Desrosiers's tenants were forced to move out in the 1990s, when city inspectors declared the buildings unsafe.

No one but Desrosiers has lived on the property for years.

The court order lists extensive repairs that must be done to fix the southernmost building, where owner Guy Desrosiers still lives on the ground floor. (Loreen Pindera/CBC)

Except for his front door on the ground floor of the southernmost building, the entire property is fenced off. Inspectors fear that a bad snowstorm or minor tremor could cause the northernmost building next door to him to collapse.

Fines, warnings and evacuation orders have gone nowhere.

At last, in 2013, the city sought an injunction to force Desrosiers to carry out repairs, but the proceedings against the owner stalled over conflicting engineering opinions on how best to demolish the northernmost building, which everyone agreed is now beyond repair.

Desrosiers has said for years he wants to build a condominium project to replace the property at 4413-4423 de l'Esplanade. However, the building is considered a heritage site, and the government has insisted the original façade cannot be taken down.

Desrosiers wanted to take the façade down, stone by stone, during the building's demolition, then rebuild it when the condominium project goes ahead. 

Unable to resolve that impasse, the city took Desrosiers back to court. 

In September, a Superior Court justice sided with the government and ordered the façade be kept standing during the demolition work, at Desrosiers's cost. 

A Superior Court justice says the façade of the northernmost building at 4413-4423 de l'Esplanade Avenue must be secured and kept standing during the demolition work, at the owner's cost. (Loreen Pindera/CBC)

The judgment orders Desrosiers to make extensive repairs to the building he still occupies. That building needs a new roof, doors and windows.

It also has to be decontaminated, as it's riddled with mould, mildew and rot. 

Owner will not appeal

Desrosiers told CBC News he will not appeal the judgment.

"My budget is exhausted," he said.

However, Desrosiers remains skeptical that the façade can be kept standing during demolition.

He said he's hired an engineer to come up with a plan. 

"He's tearing his hair out," said Desrosiers, who said it will be extraordinarily expensive to secure the façade. 

Gaping holes can be seen in the brick on the northernmost building, which has been fenced off for years because of city inspectors' concerns that the greystone could collapse. (Loreen Pindera/CBC)

The city confirmed Desrosiers has submitted his paperwork to obtain the demolition permit. Desrosiers expects the northern building will be demolished sometime in December.

However, Desrosiers told CBC News he no longer believes the southernmost building on his property is worth saving.

"The two buildings are the same. They have the same cancer," he said. "It's rotten."

He said he's applying for a demolition permit to bring that building down, as well.

Warning to other property owners?

Norris warns Desrosiers could face severe consequences, even jail time, if he fails to respect the court judgment.

"Mr. Desrosiers really does have every interest in complying with the order," the councillor said.

Projet Montréal Councillor Alex Norris, seen here in front of the greystones in 2016, lives in the same neighbourhood and has taken a keen interest in trying to save the buildings. (Leah Hendry/CBC)

Although it took years for the city to get a court ruling, Norris — who lives in the same neighbourhood as the decrepit buildings — said he thinks it's been worth the fight. He hopes the judgment will deter other property owners from letting their buildings fall into serious disrepair.

"Nothing would make me happier than to have those two magnificent buildings restored and brought back to their former glory," he said.

In 2011, the city won an injunction to force the owner of a building on the corner of St-Laurent Boulevard at Pine Avenue to do repairs. 

Norris says that building was beautifully restored, and he believes the same thing can happen on de l'Esplanade.

Court a last resort

Heritage Montreal spokesperson Dinu Bumbaru says the de l'Esplanade buildings are an extreme example of negligence.

Heritage Montreal spokesperson Dinu Bumbaru said he hopes the city will develop policies to intervene more quickly when heritage buildings show signs of neglect. (CBC)

To have to go as far as getting a court injunction to force the owner to act is rare, Bumbaru said, but he is happy the justice system recognizes the buildings' heritage value.

If Desrosiers doesn't meet the deadlines set out in the judgment, the order allows the city to step in and do both the demolition and repair work.

Ultimately, Desrosiers would be billed for the work. If he's unable to pay the city back, the city could sell or auction the property off to recoup its costs.

Given that the work has already been delayed for years, Bumbaru suspects the city will need to keep a close eye on what happens next.

"We know, eventually, the fire department could issue an order to demolish for safety reasons," he said.

Bumbaru said going to court really is a last resort. In the future, he said he'd encourage the city to intervene more quickly and work with owners of buildings in disrepair to find a solution — not to wait until demolition is the only option.


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About the Author

Leah Hendry is a TV, radio and online journalist with CBC Montreal Investigates. Contact her via our confidential tipline: 514-597-5155 or on email at montrealinvestigates@cbc.ca.

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