The Rental Board, now called the Tribunal administrative du logement (TAL), turned 40 years old this October. The TAL, first created to arbitrate the imbalance in power between tenants and landlords, continues to fail in its duties to protect tenants and the rental housing market. The historical dysfunction of Quebecs housing tribunal only becomes more concerning as tenants face an unprecedented crisis, brought on by a global pandemic, a lack of social housing, and out-of-control rents in the private market.
For years now, the Greater Montreal housing market has been gradually tightening, with last years vacancy rate breaking a 15-year record low with only 1.5% of apartments available, while at the same time, the average rent increased by 3.6%, the highest increase in recent years. Add on the financial losses faced by tenants during a global lockdown, and the result is that vulnerable and precarious populations living in the metropolis are being choked out.
The reality is undeniable. Against the backdrop of this housing crisis, homelessness has doubled in our city, and still more barely manage to avoid it. Tenants seeking the help of our organization face a newly hostile rental market, leaving many of our service users caught between the impossible choice of hanging onto their still-affordable but unsafe, substandard apartments, or trying their luck in a housing market where affordable options have all but disappeared.
We see a lot of people who get caught in a cycle of not being able to pay their rent on time. This often results in eviction, after which they are faced with finding new housing that is even less affordable, Anne Favory, a social rights worker at Project Genesis explains. In other cases, vulnerable tenants end up being at the mercy of their landlord, who know that they can get away with not doing repairs or fixing vermin issues since the tenant cant afford anything better.
Bridgejet, a Project Genesis service user who has had bedbugs since February, knows this firsthand. My daughters skin is damaged by the bug bites. I keep buying medication, but nothing works. If I try to move, I'm going to have to pay almost $2000, and Im a single mother, I cant afford that. Bridgejet lives in a 4 with her three children and pays $880 a month. She would like to keep her apartment as she faces discrimination when looking for a new place to live. Landlords do not like the colour of my skin and the fact that I have children, she explains. All of this, of course, is compounded by her financial reality: If I take one of these apartments, I'm going to end up homeless because I cant pay the rent.
The provincial government recently made a number of important changes to the Tribunal, a body whose mission includes presiding over the conservation of the housing stock. In the current housing and economic crisis, Project Genesis, a member of the Regroupement des comits logement et associations de locataires du Qubec (RCLALQ), demands that the provincial government take steps to implement rent control, ending the current cycle of insufficient affordable housing, unsafe living conditions, and eviction. As various governments all over Canada move towards freezing property taxes and rent increases as a response to the pandemic, the Quebec government needs to step up to protect tenants.
Saray Ortiz Torres
As tenants suffer in Pandemic, the Quebec government must take action to control rent - The Suburban Newspaper