MONTREAL – Between the leaky ceiling, rats, and occasional squatters in the staircase, the two-storey apartment building in Montreal’s Pointe-Saint-Charles neighbourhood had its share of problems.
But as the mostly low-income tenants left the building for the final time Thursday following an eviction notice, some questioned whether, in its zeal to protect citizens, the city was leaving them homeless.
As they walked down the staircase one by one, carrying plastic shopping bags and — in one instance — a cat, some said they didn’t know where they would live in the future.
“We had 20 days to find a place, you can’t do that, if you’re lucky, OK, but you can’t just find a place in February,” said 58-year-old resident Glenn Fox.
“So they just throw everybody out in the wintertime. That’s it.”
The City of Montreal issued eviction notices to more than a dozen apartment residents in early February, noting the landlord had failed to address issues with maintenance, sanitation and emergency exits, which were deemed non-compliant and a possible fire hazard.
Montreal Mayor Valerie Plante said Thursday the city had no choice but to ask the residents to leave immediately.
“As mayor, I cannot leave people in a building if I’m told it isn’t safe,” she said. “I can’t have an accident on my conscience.”
But Stephane Proulx, the lawyer representing the tenants, criticized the city’s handling of the eviction, saying residents weren’t given enough time to prepare.
“People didn’t even have three weeks to completely change direction and find a new place to live,” he said, noting the building’s problems didn’t appear overnight.
On Wednesday, a Quebec Superior Court Justice upheld the eviction notice and refused Proulx’s request for an injunction to grant the tenants upfront compensation, saying the request must instead go through the province’s rental board.
Proulx said the rental board is notoriously slow, which leaves tenants with no compensation and nowhere to go in the meantime.
“It’s important that, in our society, there are places where we can speak to authorities and get protection, reparation,” he said.
Fox, who is on social assistance, said the city is paying for him to stay in a hotel for the next couple of days, and he is hoping they’ll find him a spot in social housing after that.
He noted that the rapid gentrification of Pointe-Saint-Charles means many of the neighbourhood’s working-class residents are unlikely to find another rental they can afford.
Another resident, Giulia Giorgi, said she was lucky enough to find another apartment, but feels more should have been done to help the residents.
“I have a lot of neighbours who didn’t find an apartment and now they’re out (on the street),” she said. “It’s not fair to do this to citizens. After all, we’re Canadian citizens.”
The city defended the need for the evictions, noting it had been asking the landlord to fix the issues with the building since 2010.
Spokesman Jules Chamberland-Lajoie said the city was working with the Red Cross, community organizations and the municipal housing agency to make sure tenants were taken care of. He promised that nobody would end up on the street.
A representative for a community organization helping the residents says that while he’s happy the city is taking much-needed action to crack down on unsafe dwellings, he’s hoping it will reconsider their timeline in the future.
“Three weeks time is not enough time to relocate these people,” Cedric Glorioso-Deraiche said outside the building.
“There was no discussion with the community groups beforehand to help with the relocation efforts — and that for us is just unacceptable.”