Mayor calls for crackdown on illegal Airbnb rentals after deadly fire in Old Montreal
1 dead, search continues for 6 people still missing
As firefighters continued their search Monday to find victims of a fatal fire in Old Montreal, the city's mayor, Valérie Plante, called on the Quebec government and Airbnb to work more closely with the municipality to crack down on illegal short-term rentals.
The body of one victim was recovered yesterday from the rubble of the multi-unit heritage building ravaged by fire on Thursday. Six other people are still missing.
This is the first confirmed death since the blaze, which tore through the three-storey, 15-unit multi-use building at the intersection of Place d'Youville and St-Nicolas Street.
The building housed long-term and short-term rentals including Airbnbs, which are prohibited in this area of Old Montreal under a bylaw adopted in 2018.
Steve Belzil, commander of the Montreal police arson squad, said the victim's body was pulled from the rubble at 6:45 p.m. on Sunday. Police say they were using a drone to examine the scene when they saw the victim and were able to extract the body.
"The steps to identify this victim will be taken by our partners in the forensic scientific laboratory," Belzil said.
The only detail authorities confirmed is that it was a woman's body.
According to the chief of the Montreal fire department, Richard Liebmann, nine people were saved from the building and transported to hospital. Two remain hospitalized.
At least 1 tenant operating Airbnb, owner's lawyer says
Alexandre Bergevin, the lawyer representing the owner, says his client met with investigators and is co-operating with the investigation. He says the owner, Emile Haim-Benamor, didn't operate Airbnbs, but at least one of the owner's tenants did.
"[That tenant] seems to be at the source of the problematic rental we've heard about with the young woman and her boyfriend who were stuck in an apartment," said Bergevin.
According to Bergevin, Haim-Benamor had sent the tenant a lawyer's letter in order to put an end to the illegal renting and was planning on taking the tenant to court. The tenant was supposed to move out by the end of June, he said.
Mayor calls on Airbnb and province to step up
Facing questions about the management of Airbnb rentals in the building, Plante said the city is taking some responsibility and can do more to clamp down on illegal tourist accommodations.
But she said it's not Montreal's responsibility alone.
Revenu Québec must increase the number of its inspectors to investigate illegal Airbnb operators, she said.
"The solution is not only to hire inspectors paid for by taxpayers when Airbnb doesn't even oblige their owners to have permit numbers," she said.
Plante called on Nathan Rotman, the regional policy director for Airbnb Canada, to clamp down on the proliferation of illegal Airbnbs operating without valid permits.
"I'm calling him to do his job to forbid any type of renters who do not respect the law," said Plante. "I call them to take their responsibility."
Later in the day, Quebec Tourism Minister Caroline Proulx announced the provincial government will pass new legislation to better regulate short-term rentals "as soon as possible."
The change would force rental owners to display their permit numbers and registration photos for listings, with fines for both the owner and the platform if not respected, said Proulx. The legislation would also make sure that owners respect building codes, she said.
Cause still unknown
Demolition crews started tearing down the building's top two floors on Sunday. Montreal police say they will search the premises to find and extract other victims from the rubble Monday.
Police say it is still too early to determine the cause of the fire or how many people were in the building, and the arson squad is still investigating.
Service de Police de la Ville de Montréal (SPVM) Chief Fady Dagher said it would take at least a week or two to determine the cause.
According to the fire chief, investigators are not yet able to say if building codes were respected.
The grandfather of one of the missing people, Robert Lacas, says his granddaughter told police in her 911 call she could not escape the fire because there were no windows where she was stuck in the building.
with files from Radio-Canada