Unwittingly Becoming an Agent of Gentrification

Landlords in Montreal are Putting Students in Competition with Long-Term Residents

Graphic Sam Jones

For many students who have signed rental agreements that began on July 1st, spring is the season of rent hikes and lease renewals.

This can be a frustrating time for many tenants who must decide whether to stay or go and whether or not it’s worth dealing with the landlord’s proposed hikes. When I wanted to move from my first apartment in Montreal, I had assumed that my agreement with my landlord would simply expire at the end of the stated term in our contract.

What I didn’t know was that the lease automatically renews and that it’s the responsibility of the tenant to inform their landlord in writing of their desire to end the lease. While searching the Internet for a new place to live, between the scams and privately-run student residence monoliths that occupy my browser’s advertising, I found my old apartment. Much to my surprise, the landlord was advertising the apartment for nearly $150 more than I’d been paying already at an apartment that I believed to be expensive as it was. I thought very little of this at first.

I later moved in with a friend of mine to a large, three-bedroom apartment in the South-West where I finally felt I was getting my money’s worth—the place wasn’t nice, but it was cheap. While cleaning out bags of garbage, books, toys and children’s clothes left behind it dawned on me that somebody with children lived here before we signed our new lease. Later I discovered that a single parent—with three children—who’d lived there for nearly eight years had been pushed out by rising rents.

My neighbour said that the only way he and his roommates could stay was by doing odd repair jobs for the landlord in lieu of accepting or contesting rental increases. Near the developing monstrosity of the Turcot interchange, my new apartment was in prime territory to house the future workers of the McGill University Health Centre, a project that has many a property owner salivating at the prospect of a higher income pool of tenants and big money to be had by converting rental units into condos.

These factors influence the general trend of rent increases for the neighbourhood, which overtime has been displacing long-term residents. I realized that my roommate and I had inadvertently become part of the vanguard of gentrification. We aren’t wealthy, we don’t shop at designer vintage stores and we prefer to loiter outside of cafés to sneak onto their Wi-Fi.

But, we have two incomes that together can pay more in rent than the single parent we displaced by moving into this apartment and it still feels like we got a good deal. But is it a good deal for the neighbourhood?

But, we have two incomes that together can pay more in rent than the single parent we displaced by moving into this apartment and it still feels like we got a good deal. But is it a good deal for the neighbourhood? Do we want students to be in competition with families for the relatively low number of affordable, multi-bedroom units available on the island?

We never knew how much the previous tenant was paying as our landlord had “forgotten” to fill out that so often overlooked Section G of the official Quebec Lease Agreement, where they are required to inform you of the previous rents paid. Had we had that information we could’ve contested any rent increase in between the leases at the Régie du lodgement. We could have also searched more actively for a lease transfer instead of taking the easy route of signing a new contract, the benefit of this being that you can pay exactly the same amount as the tenant who transferred their agreement to you by bypassing the landlord almost entirely.

One thing we did do, and will continue to do, is refuse our rent increase. This in itself is not a solution. It helps, but the fight against displacement and gentrification will require more than mitigation. Whenever we move, we leave behind the traces of our touch on our former apartments: higher rents, businesses in the community left unsupported because we spent all of our time on campus or in the Plateau or wherever we wish we could afford to live and a sense that these dwellings were just a temporary pad before we launch off to the next neighbourhood.

Gentrification is an economic, social and political phenomenon, but it is also a mentality that has become omnipresent in our decisions of where in the city we want to live. Neighbourhoods are more than places where we can spend money; more than the bars, cafés and stores that compete for our wages and debts. Mitigating these issues can be done in part by lease transfers, refusing rental increases and taking your landlord to the proving grounds of the Régie. Also at stake is a shift in consciousness that should make us think deeply about who was there before we arrived and what will be left once we depart.

Kyle McLoughlin is studying for BA French Translation at Concordia. He is also an Assistant at Concordia’s Off-Campus Housing and Job Bank.