Montreal

Renovicted in Verdun: New borough rules on apartment combinations don't extend to triplexes

A Verdun tenant has to pack up and find a new apartment in a new neighbourhood. His landlord is taking over his space, which is legal despite a new bylaw passed by Verdun to protect tenants. The bylaw does not extend to triplexes, like the one Quinten Sheriff has to leave.

Squeezed out of the Verdun rental market, tenants like Quinten Sheriff wonder what their future is in Montreal

Quinten Sheriff says he had trouble finding a new place to stay, "I've been turned down for one apartment because of my vulnerable position." (Rowan Kennedy/CBC)

Quinten Sheriff is packing up his belongings, preparing to leave his second-floor apartment in a Verdun triplex.

It's not by choice. Sheriff is being evicted so that his landlord can merge two apartments for his expanding family.

"I wonder what my future may be in Montreal if I have been pushed out of the last neighbourhood that people tell me is affordable and livable," Sheriff said.

What's happening to Sheriff is increasingly common in Montreal. In Verdun, housing advocates are worried that a recently passed bylaw doesn't go far enough to protect these tenants from eviction.

On Nov. 3, the Verdun borough council voted unanimously to amend residential zoning rules. The amendment extended protections against unit mergers in buildings with five units or more. The law also banned subdivisions.

"We were getting a lot of pressure from all sides," said Pierre L'Heureux, a Verdun borough councillor. "I know that it's not pleasing to everyone but it's a compromise."

And it leaves people like Sheriff with no protection.

He had been hoping that the new restrictions would extend to triplexes. He says he is now priced out of his neighbourhood and has to move out of the area.

Housing crisis in Verdun

The bylaw passed amid increasing concern that the loss of rental properties is having an effect on the Verdun housing market.

Marie-Andrée Mauger, a Verdun councillor, says that between 2004 and 2013, Verdun lost 400 rental properties as a result of unit mergers. That pace seems to be accelerating. In 2020, as of Nov. 3, 61 rentals had disappeared from the market.

The council says more than 70 people wrote in. The Comité d'action des citoyennes et citoyens de Verdun (CACV) had more than 150 residents of Verdun sign an open letter to the council, pushing for the restrictions to apply to triplexes and duplexes.

Steve Baird, a community organizer at the CACV, is disappointed that the borough stopped short of offering merger protections to the smaller buildings.

"If we had in Verdun the version of the bylaw that they have on the Plateau, [Sheriff] wouldn't be facing eviction," Baird said.

Steve Baird, from a local housing group, says he has been getting calls from people in Verdun asking, 'Where am I gonna go? What am I gonna do, I can't afford the rent.' (Rowan Kennedy/CBC)

But L'Heureux says different boroughs mean different demographics: "There is no solution that fits all the needs across Montreal."

For instance, a new bylaw in Villeray–St-Michel–Parc-Extension allows renovations combining two apartments in buildings of six units or fewer, as long as the merged apartment doesn't exceed 2150 square feet.

Rosemont–La-Petite-Patrie, as well as Mercier–Hochelaga-Maisonneuve, however, have restricted combinations in triplexes and larger, but not duplexes.

Baird said of the Villeray and Verdun rulings, "In the end, all the bylaws adopted in Montreal boroughs are fairly weak in preventing this kind of transformation."

Verdun is no longer as affordable as it once was, and triplexes are not protected by a new bylaw that limits landlords' ability to merge apartments. (Rowan Kennedy/CBC)

As for Sheriff, he recalls asking his landlord, "Would you take someone in my situation, an unemployed, full-time student who has no salary for the next two years?"

Sheriff will be leaving his apartment before Dec. 21, moving to a smaller apartment in Hochelaga-Maisonneuve.

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