Too Big to Care

Tenants Say Rent is Too Damn High and Forcing Them Out

Faced with a deteriorating Metro station, panhandlers and a lack of maintenance from Concordia, tenants complain that they are paying too much for too little. Photo erin sparks
Photo erin sparks
Photo erin sparks

Many of the businesses around Concordia complain that the rent is too high and that repairs are too slow. They feel that their landlord is too big to care.

Controlling leases over pizza parlours, cobblers, computer stores, casse-croutes, pharmacies, hair salons and coffee shops, Concordia University is the biggest owner of real estate in the western half of downtown.
“This isn’t Times Square, but sometimes it seems like we are paying the rent for it,” said a business owner in Guy-Concordia Metro. “For us small businesses it’s incredibly hard to pay the rent when it increases so much annually.”

Because the university owns all of the storefronts in the station, the owners asked to remain anonymous to avoid retribution.

“They tell us, ‘If you don’t like it, leave!’ The university has enough money that it would prefer to have an empty space than negotiate a lower rent,” said another owner. “That’s our biggest problem with Concordia.”

According to the owners in the station, Concordia nearly doubled rent over the past five years, promising more clients in exchange for the higher fees.

“They thought that because of the tunnel we would get more clientele and would be able to pay higher rents,” said an owner about the new tunnel connecting the Metro station to the Hall building. “That didn’t happen here.”

While some businesses have benefited from the tunnel, clearly seen in the line snaking into the station’s Tim Hortons, many have not.

“The amount Concordia charges is in line with other buildings in the downtown core; in fact, it can be deemed quite reasonable,” said Concordia spokesperson Chris Mota.

“The construction of the tunnel leading to the LB Building has definitely increased pedestrian traffic through the GM Metro level and has attracted many new customers for the businesses,” Mota continued. “No promises would, or could, be made regarding the impact of that traffic on individual businesses, but any upgrade, tunnel included, can only be seen as positive.”

Tenants on the Metro level of the GM building are also faced daily by the two largest complaints associated with the Guy-Concordia Metro station: its filthiness and panhandlers.

The tenants—who pay Concordia between $30 and $45 per square foot annually for maintenance—questioned the university’s actual cleaning effort.

“They aren’t doing much for the maintenance fee. They should be cleaning outside the shop. No one is cleaning,” said a storeowner. “Every morning the place is a mess. They should have someone passing by every hour, but someone comes and cleans at night, that’s it.”

With the Société de transport de Montréal cleaning the neighbouring Metro platform multiple times during the day, the tenants claimed that Concordia didn’t try to maintain its building.

“The tenants currently in the GM Metro level agreed to their respective rates,” said Mota. “That portion of the rent goes towards covering expenses such as maintenance, cleaning, security, property insurance and garbage disposal.”

One owner said that the panhandling was more than a nuisance for owners who need to open shops early in the morning.

“There is a washroom between the dentist and the Harmonie [pastry shop] that everyone uses. When we come in the morning there are homeless people in that hallway smoking cigarettes and sprawled out on the floor with a beer,” said an owner. “We need security to come and check more.”

While Concordia Security does try to control panhandlers in the station, Mota conceded that the university’s security has limited jurisdiction to intervene.

“Security in the GM Metro level is a shared responsibility between Concordia and the Service de police de Montréal,” said Mota. “The Guy-Concordia Metro station is the third busiest in the STM network with 7.8 million users annually. This makes it a popular destination for panhandlers.

“Intervention is difficult because Concordia’s Security Department doesn’t have a mandate to intervene. Usually our agents will encourage these individuals to move on. Often they will move to the STM section and wait until our Security agents leave and then make their way back.”

While they fight for business, Concordia’s small tenants might have reason to worry about being displaced by larger firms. A sign appeared on the GM building Friday announcing that an A&W franchise was moving into the building.