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In June, the Comité d'action des citoyens et citoyennes de Verdun (CACV) launched a campaign calling for a moratorium on evictions. The CACV is targeting extension and subdivision permits issued by the borough. These are used by landlords to carry out "renovictions", i.e. to evict tenants in order to divide or enlarge a dwelling and increase the cost of rent. As a result of this practice, rents have jumped by 28% in the last 4 years in Verdun, and 2680 low-income households have been evicted from the district.
Lyn O'Donnell community organizer with the CACV explains to North Star : "The levels of evictions we're seeing in verdun but also all across Montreal and quebec are outrageous at this point and the permits that are issued are also outrageous. When a landlord or speculator has such permits, he can almost decide at will what he wants to do. It's almost a complete green light. The tenant can challenge the eviction in court but the Tribunal Administratif du Logement sees these permits as impunity to evict"
However, there are boroughs where these permits are slightly more restricted. Lyn adds: "What we observed in 2018 was that 8 or 9 boroughs, including the South West had adopted stricter bylaws, so not perfect by all means, but better, so they would limit the number of units per building that could be fusionned or subdivided. In other places for example, if you have a quadruplex you can't do a fusion."
"In Verdun we have alot of quadruplexes. and we learned that almost all of the buildings affected by these types of evictions were quadruplexes. In our bylaw, quadruplexes are not protected. We obviously need to modify it so that they are protected. They [the elected officials] wont do that."
In 2018, elected members of the Verdun Borough Council tabled a draft bylaw to govern the granting of these permits. As soon as the draft was tabled, the Corporation des Propriétaires Immobiliers du Québec, along with local landlords and speculators, expressed their dissatisfaction to the borough council. Elected officials considerably watered down the bylaw, so that the quadruplexes were no longer included. " So that makes it so tenants here are not protected against evictions" deplores Lyn.
"They're adamantly defending the lack of regulations when community organizations have explicitly told them what to do, but they keep saying 'we need to do more studies, we need data'. But we say no, we have the data and the situation is really bad, so now you have to do something. That's why, over the years, we've tried to get them to tighten up these regulations, but at this point, we're just saying: no, we want a moratorium, we want to end all these permits."
There are several precedents for the CACV demand. For example, the Town of Hampstead does not allow subdivision or expension permits unless the tenant has somewhere else to go. On the other hand, evictions were banned during the Covid crisis, and the housing crisis is still with us. "Elected officials recognize that we're in the midst of a housing crisis," asserts Kay Lockyer of CACV, "but their actions don't follow their words."
One argument put forward by the municipality to avoid tightening the bylaws is that families should not be harmed. According to Lyn, what the elected officials mean by this is the specific case of homeowners who want to enlarge their homes to accommodate their families. "But that shouldnt trump the fact that in verdun over 70% of families are tenants. So who are the families we're talking about?"
Elected representatives also invoke the limits of their powers to evade responsibility for the evictions taking place in their boroughs. "We had one of the city councillor respond to our callout of the situation by saying "we don't actually give the permits, it's the employes who do".
According to Lyn, all this is not surprising when "Governments are in bed with speculators. A lot of our elected representatives are landlords. We had people running in the last municipal elections that were actual speculators." We could mention Antoine Richard, candidate for mayor of Verdun with Ensemble Montréal, who defended himself during an election debate of having reaped $417,000 through forbidden real estate flips in 2019 and 2020.