Words and Photography: James Betz-Gray
Tim Forster was living in an apartment building in Montreal in December 2017 when he says all the tenants simultaneously received registered mail eviction notices. Getting this letter, halfway through his year-long lease, was alarming.
Forster recalls that shortly before his notice came, addressed to a previous renter from two years earlier, the property was sold to a numbered company.
Forster says most of the tenants who were offered severance pay of three months rent, plus moving expenses, decided to go. However, he and his roommate decided to contest and stay after another tenant discovered that the building was permanently zoned residential.
During negotiations in late February 2018, he says the new landlords clearly stated their intentions to convert the property into an Airbnb and to his surprise, asked if they would be willing to move by March 1, giving Forster just over a week to move.
Tim Forster stands outside of his new apartment in the Plateau-Mont-Royal where he moved after being evicted from his last apartment. A lock-box is installed next to the building intercom buzzer, which he says is a common sign of short-term rental activity on the premises.
Forster’s reply to the new landlords: “Could you re-house yourself entirely including finding a place in nine days?” According to Forster, the negotiations ended in a buyout settlement with terms including moving March 1 into another vacated apartment in the building and leaving by May 1 instead of the lease end on July 1.
Forster found it difficult to find an available apartment in the area within his budget, especially in May.
Browsing through Airbnb rentals in the area online, Tim Forster found his old affordable apartment, newly renovated and going for $75 per night. He used to rent it for under $600 per month, which works out to about $20 a night.
Sutton real estate broker Juliette Mourez has witnessed short-term rental buyer appeal first-hand with investors capitalizing on the loose regulations around these types of rentals. According to Mourez more buyers and renters are finding it difficult to stay on island.
“It’s really difficult to find apartments that are affordable for one person on minimum wage. It’s really impossible,” said Mourez.
Simone Nichol took her building association to court alongside two other residents in May 2014 after they recognized that six out of 16 units were being used as short-term rentals with up to 10 people in each apartment per stay.
“I had to re-mortgage my apartment twice to pay for the lawyer fees… I spent a $100,000 on lawyer fees and I got no moral damages, no punitive damages,” said Nichol.
She says the building, located in downtown Montreal, would normally be generating single apartment revenue of $600 per month but, short-term revenue was up to $6000 per month. The commercial activity was managed from afar and “they were never there to see the consequence on those that live there and in the area,” said Nichol.
In June 2015, Nichol and co-plaintiffs won an injunction in the Quebec Superior Court stopping any short-term rentals under 31 days.
Forced to provide evidence for the courts they decided to document the short-term renter traffic, contacting previous renters to prove in court the owner was lying..“It took a lot of work and I would not wish that on anyone,” said Nichol. The case ended in a forced settlement of the owner having to pay out $100,000 after being charged with contempt of court twice for failing to appear.
During the court proceedings, Nichol says building maintenance was forgone and the roof needed immediate work, prompting her to bring this issue up in small claims court before it was denied because of the settlement.
In the past couple years Nichol says apartments values in her area have gone up 500%. She is concerned it’s a wave of inflation that won’t go back down and what this will mean for the diversity of the neighbourhood.
“Society has become crazy in the adoration of the fast buck, nobody thinks about the consequences that they have on a community of people,” said Nichol.
Thumbnail Infographic: Vincent Aulnay