About ten people gathered on Wednesday evening in a room at Maison Saint-Charles to ask questions to the two lawyers invited by the Pointe-Saint-Charles housing information group.
Among those present are several tenants of a rooming house on Ash Avenue, who fear losing their homes. We discuss the strategy to be implemented to avoid a potentially serious eviction for everyone.
Since the start of the summer, the new owner has been pressuring tenants to convince them to vacate the premises. He wants to carry out work, which he has already started. If he cannot completely change the vocation of the building – municipal regulations prohibit the conversion of rooming houses into other types of housing – nothing prevents him from renovating and re-renting the housing at a high price. .
The location is ideal for students, or for short-term rentals, in this area long eaten away by gentrification. There is money to be made. In short, it is an attempt at renoviction like any other, as common as it is revolting.
Some tenants have accepted, after very unequal negotiations and without having been informed of their rights, small amounts of money in exchange for a promise to give up their room. But no one really wants to leave. Because where can you hope to relocate when you are already renting a room for around $ 500 a month? Nowhere. In today’s rental market, there is nowhere else to go.
Me Stéphane Proulx, lawyer for Community Legal Services of Pointe-Saint-Charles and Little Burgundy, and Mr.e Manuel Johnson, of the Ouellet Nadon firm, explained to the tenants present the steps to follow to resist the eviction attempt. The message they are trying to communicate is clear: don’t give up your rights.
Even if you have already made some concessions. Even if we try to convince you that this eviction is inevitable. It’s wrong. Let the owner know that you have legal advice, that you are not alone. Because you will not be alone. At the end of the meeting, the general anxiety seemed to have subsided somewhat. But as in all situations of the same kind, the asymmetry of power is so striking.
Visiting Montreal at the start of the week as part of the election campaign, Justin trudeau made a few promises in terms of housing. His party, he announced, intends to “put an end to renovations” by discouraging abusive rent increases and by deploying a program to facilitate access to homeownership. A vague commitment that barely touches the dynamics at work in situations like that of the rooming house on Avenue Ash.
Only tenants can hardly resist the dynamics at work in the real estate market, regardless of the tools and rights that are in principle at their disposal. This is nothing new: the application of the rule is always troubled in contact with social relations. And in the case of housing, this is the heart of the problem. Tenants, especially the most vulnerable, often find themselves isolated, caught off guard, and resigned to accepting abuse. It doesn’t matter what the law says about their owner’s maneuvers.
“For an individual, it is very difficult to face the legal process when he wants to challenge an eviction or abusive treatment. It can be extremely humiliating, for example, to have to explain to a judge why you signed an agreement that you are then contesting. It’s hard for morale and for integrity, ”says Mr.e Proulx. “Often, in this kind of case, we work with very vulnerable people, who have difficult life trajectories, who may have difficulty expressing themselves,” adds Mr.e Johnson.
While the belief that the Administrative Housing Tribunal is an institution favorable to tenants is doubtful, we are not even talking about the barriers that are exerted even before the issues are put to justice: fear, isolation, exhaustion, lack of literacy… “But by bringing people together, we create a more interesting strike force,” says Me Johnson.
However, the mobilization in this direction is not so obvious. While access to legal representation is crucial, it is not the role of lawyers to co-ordinate tenants, remarks Me Proulx. To build bonds of solidarity between tenants, to give impetus to collective resistance, the support of the whole community is needed. “Here at Pointe-Saint-Charles, there are organizations whose role it is, and it is thanks to this that meetings like this evening can take place,” he emphasizes. Otherwise, people experience it in solitude. “
It is easy to look away, to let the popular districts be quietly erased. However, from a flip on the other hand, we will not be able to indefinitely displace the populations which disturb real estate ambitions. And the answer does not lie in access for all to own property, but in access for all to an affordable and decent living environment.