Tenants Rights Groups Demand Reforms to Rental Board

Petitions and Protests Planned Over the Next Few Months

The Regroupement des comités logement et associations de locataires du Québec launched a campaign on Tuesday to reform the rental board’s system in order to make it more accessible to tenants. Photo Erika Morris

Philomène Césaire found an apartment in her price range in Parc-Extension. However, the city required her to leave in winter 2015 because her landlord’s neglect of the property made it unsafe.

“It was filthy, and on top of that there were cockroaches everywhere,” she said. “He didn’t want to clean or renovate anything, and he wanted to raise my rent! I didn’t let him.”

Césaire said that she was kicked out of the apartment by the city in an emergency evacuation as the apartment had no emergency exit and was deemed unsafe. Once she moved out, her landlord wrote her a letter saying she could come back if she agreed to a rent increase of $175.

She said she opened a file at the Régie du logement, but they told her she didn’t have sufficient proof to persecute the landlord.

“My landlord put me through torture,” she said. “I left the apartment in the middle of winter because it was no longer safe, and it was very difficult for me.”

Cesaire didn’t go back to the apartment once it was fixed.

Stories like Cesaire’s are increasingly common. The Regroupement des comités logement et associations de locataires du Québec recognizes this, and launched a campaign on Tuesday to reform the rental board’s system in order to make it more accessible to tenants.

“The system is unfair and inaccessible to most tenants in Quebec. We need this to change,” said RCLALQ spokesperson Maxime Roy-Allard.

“We are asking for reforms to the minister in charge of housing, Andrée Laforest, and to Francois Legault’s government to heed to this reform as soon as possible and to bring justice to tenants,” he said.

Their demands include finding better compromises when tenants are late on their rent rather than facing eviction, having access to free judicial services at the rental board, that judges help tenants in the procedures as they are rarely represented, and that the Régie have more control over rents.

Roy-Allard said that the RCLALQ wishes to bring a petition to the National Assembly and that they will continue to have a series of events leading to a greater protest on April 24.

Realistically, Roy-Allard hopes that in the coming months the organization will be able to meet with the provincial government and slowly start the reforms.

“Every year the Régie gets further away from their original mission, which is to ensure equitable relationships between renters and landlords […] and make sure that every citizen has access to adequate housing,” said one of the protest’s co-organizers, Philippe Girouard.

Girouard added that tenants have a hard time accessing the rental board’s services, that the wait times are significantly longer for tenants compared to landlords, and that while tenants typically have to represent themselves, landlords have lawyers.

“It doesn’t make sense to give tenants who can’t pay rent in time more protection,” Association des propriétaires du Québec’s President Martin A. Messier, said. “Unless you can convince my banker to delay my mortgage and my insurance to delete my invoice and my taxes to be delayed also.”

Though landlords tend to agree that it takes far too long for complaints to be heard, Messier said, landlords also have financial obligations, and that rent must be paid on time.

“It’s plain ridiculous,” he said, adding that if a tenant is really strapped there are usually emergency funds available to them.

Last year the RCLALQ held a similar protest against evictions, but Roy-Allard and Messier said neither of them saw changes since.

Claire Abraham, who works on Project Genesis–an organization for tenants rights in Côte-des-Neiges–said that tenants come to them with issues such as illegitimate rent increases, landlords who refuse to do repairs, heating issues, and more.

She said that the rental board is the only legal recourse that tenants have access to but that if tenants don’t know how to use the system, it won’t amount to much and so Project Genesis aims to give them resources and help them know their rights.

Abraham said that the rental board often evicts tenants unjustly, and that damage compensations are too low. Along with waiting times and costs to open files, this discourages tenants from seeking legal aid.

“It takes an average of two years for tenants to get a hearing for repair cases and it costs $75 to open a file,” Abraham said.

The Régie was unavailable for comment.

“We will continue this fight until it happens. We will gather, protest, occupy, name it. We will do what it takes to get our reforms,” Roy-Allard said.