Montreal

Saint-Henri rooming house tenants handed 'counterfeit' eviction notice

A group of tenants in a Saint-Henri rooming house received an eviction notice that tried to pass itself off as a government document but was not. 

Quebec rental board says it plans to take swift and firm action against the owner

Jean Deneault says he had a hunch something wasn't quite right with the eviction notice he and his neighbours in Saint-Henri received. Quebec's Régie du logement agrees. (Sean Henry/CBC)

A group of tenants in a Saint-Henri rooming house received an eviction notice that, at first glance, looks like an official document.

But Quebec's rental board says the letter — matching the style of its legal forms — is counterfeit.

Tenants in the building on Notre-Dame Street were given the letter on June 1, informing them they'd have until the end of the month to find somewhere else to live.

This comes as Montreal is seeing a 14-year low in the city's vacancy rate, a situation that some housing advocates are calling a crisis

The eviction letter claims that, after an inspection of the building near the corner of du Couvent Street, the owners would have to carry out major renovations for an "indeterminate" amount of time. 

The letter was written in the same font that the Régie du logement uses, and follows a similar design to the Régie's "Notice of major improvement or repairs" form.

After CBC News informed the Régie of the situation, the rental board says it plans to take swift and "firm" action against the owner.

Régie says it will react 'promptly and firmly'

"The notice used by the landlord is not a model notice issued by the Régie du logement," spokesperson Denis Miron wrote in an emailed statement. 

"The notice that the landlord has sent to the tenants does not comply with the requirements of the of the law with regard to the temporary evacuation required during major works."

"The Régie will react promptly and firmly against the said owner as to the counterfeiting of its notice forms."

CBC News contacted the numbered company listed on the letter, but did not hear back.

Quebec's Régie du logement says the document appears to have been counterfeited to resemble one of its forms. (Courtesy of Jean Deneault)

In case of major work, landlords in Quebec can issue temporary eviction notices. They also have to specify what work needs to be carried out, and the rent stipulated in their tenant's leases cannot be changed following renovations.

Jean Deneault, who's lived in the building for four years, got in touch with CBC News when he had a hunch something wasn't right with the document.

"It didn't make sense," Deneault said, leaning in his doorway. "We have no idea who the owners are."

Deneault says the rooming house has a total of 14 rooms and everyone pays $400 per month. 

Tenants left with few options

"Most of the people here are on welfare," he said. "They're basically trying to put people out on the street."

Deneault, 60, worked as a labourer for most of his life. But after a series of injuries, he says he had to stop.

He said Quebec's workplace health and safety board eventually stopped compensating him because they said his health problems weren't related to his work.

"My body's shot," he said.

Deneault says he looked for a place to stay at another rooming house, but the rent would eat up most of his social assistance cheque, his only income. 

The rooming house at 4003 Notre-Dame Street West shares a building with two trendy bars in Montreal's Saint-Henri neighbourhood. (Sean Henry/CBC)

His small blue room on Notre-Dame allows him to have a warm place of his own, while having money leftover for expenses every month.

"I have to admit it was my first time in a rooming house. The first month was a bit hard for me, but basically it's a place to live, it's very comfortable … everything was included in the rent."

This month, he and a number of other tenants haven't paid their rent yet, unsure of what's next. 

He said no one has yet asked for the June rent.

'A lot of things' wrong with letter

After receiving the letter, Deneault also reached out to POPIR, a housing advocacy organization operating in Montreal's Sud-Ouest borough.

"Basically, there are a lot of things that are wrong," with the letter, said Sandrine Belley, a community organizer at POPIR.

Belley said said tenants in rooming houses typically have leases without a fixed term, and the landlord is not giving proper notice to evict them.

According to the Régie's website, if a tenant holds a lease with an indeterminate term, the landlord must give notice six months before the eviction date.

For a temporary eviction due to major construction work on a building, the Régie requires three months' notice if the tenant must leave their apartment for more than a week.

The group is also questioning the claim that an inspection was carried out and that the building must be evacuated.

Belley said city inspectors are the only ones who can make that determination. 

Jean Deneault moved to the rooming house four years ago after Quebec's workplace health and safety board refused to compensate him for a series of injuries. (Sean Henry/CBC)

POPIR called the city, but it was told no municipal inspectors had recently visited the building, nor had any request come in for them to do so.

Belley said POPIR handed its own letter to the tenants, explaining the owner's document "is not legal" and they should contest the so-called eviction.

"For people in rooming houses, usually, it's really the last place they have before the street," she said.

"It's really important that they can stay [there]."

Belley said POPIR has been urging the city to take emergency measures with July 1, Quebec's official moving date, fast approaching. 

"A lot of people are going to be in the streets, a lot of families are going to be in the streets," she said. 

We're less than three months away from July 1st -- tenants across the city are starting to worry... the big question is... will they be able to find an apartment? Several local organisations are already sounding the alarm in fear that we're going through a housing crisis. We speak to Rahul Ranjan, a tenant struggling to find a new place and Anna Sarkissian, a real estate broker with Londono Realty Group. 12:24

Written by Verity Stevenson, reported by Sean Henry