Tenants in this Park-Ex building say they’re being pressured. Proponents say they are not alone

Tenants in this 14-unit apartment building on Birnam Street in Montreal's Park Ex are fighting a rent increase.  Proponents say they're not the only ones.  (Jennifer Yoon/CBC News - photo credit)

Tenants in this 14-unit apartment building on Birnam Street in Montreal’s Park Ex are fighting a rent increase. Proponents say they’re not the only ones. (Jennifer Yoon/CBC News – photo credit)

After years of living in the same apartment on Birnam and St-Roch streets in Montreal’s Parc-Extension neighborhood, several tenants say they feel they are being pushed out of the 14-apartment building.

It started with phone calls in which the landlord urged her to move out.

A few months later, the tenants said they were given a lease renewal letter that changed their situation dramatically.

Heating and hot water would no longer be included and rent would increase by at least $60 a month, according to the document, a copy of which was obtained by CBC. Overall, renters say they’re paying hundreds more every month.

One tenant, who CBC doesn’t identify for fear of being singled out and targeted by the landlord, said she couldn’t afford the changes.

The lease extension also includes a clause that would penalize the tenant $50 if rent is not paid by the fifth of the month. If the renter’s check bounced, they would be fined an additional $50.

Faced with the possibility of being evicted from her apartment, the tenant says she has contacted the neighborhood housing committee Committee d’action de Parc Extension (CAPE).

Jennifer Yoon/CBC News

Jennifer Yoon/CBC News

Renters at Park Ex at greater risk, say advocates

André Trépanier, community organizer at CAPE, says most of the building’s residents are banding together to fight the rent increase. He says they’re not the only ones facing what he calls abusive rent increases and pressure tactics.

Trépanier says that in his 12 years at CAPE, he has never seen so many people facing the same problem.

Some people have to turn to food banks because after paying the rent they can no longer afford groceries – which have also become more expensive.

Many people in Park Ex are particularly vulnerable as newcomers to Quebec, are still learning English or French, and learning how to navigate the system, Trépanier said.

“If we’re not there for these people and the tenants don’t stay together, people will be evicted or face massive rent increases,” he said.

“The law is very complicated, even for people who were born and raised in Canada and have a good knowledge of French and English. So imagine a newcomer who has to deal with all this,” said Manuel Johnson, an attorney who represents tenants only.

Submitted by Manuel Johnson

Submitted by Manuel Johnson

Johnson said landlords are allowed to ask for more money, but they must justify why they are doing so if the tenant asks for that explanation.

Johnson said he too has seen an explosive growth in the number of tenants fighting abusive rent increases.

“There are a handful of attorneys in Montreal defending tenants, and we’re all completely overwhelmed by the demand,” he said.

He says the process of going to provincial housing court can be lengthy and stressful, and some people give in and agree to abusive rent increases, especially in such a tough rental market.

“They talk about people’s homes, so they want to be comfortable there. They don’t want to feel like they have this sword of Damocles hanging over their heads.”

Johnson and Trépanier both urge the provincial government to do more to protect vulnerable tenants.

Inflation, insurance hikes to blame for higher rent, landlord says

Abraham Kellner, the building’s landlord, said in a statement that he didn’t want to bother anyone and that he’s still willing to help with repairs “although they’ve decided to stay.”

He said he didn’t know a late rent penalty was illegal and said he was doing his best to manage the building, calling the delays in repairs normal.

Kellner also said the rent increase was based on the tribunal’s rent calculator and that the increased cost was due to inflation and higher insurance costs.

Nonetheless, the tenants say they sent a registered letter rejecting the terms of their lease extension – and they will fight to stay in their homes.


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