Indomitable tenants live in a building under construction without heating
At the beginning of July, the 16-storey building located at the corner of Saint-Urbain and Prince-Arthur streets, in Montreal, housed a hundred souls. But since the launch of a huge renovation project, they are only 14 tenants. The latter say they are victims of a renoviction and have started a standoff with their owner to stay in their home.
“They offered me a lease assignment without delay,” says Jean*, a long-time tenant. He refused it, because he ‘n'[a] cannot afford to go elsewhere », but it was accepted by more than 100 residents, most of them elderly, who had lived there for a long time, according to testimonies collected by Subway.
The original purpose of the renovations commissioned by manager Cromwell Management was to replace the heating. Visibly necessary work in a building in poor condition. The heating units of the apartments still inhabited have disappeared and have not been replaced so far. The irreducible tenants fear a difficult winter.
“The contractor in charge of the work provided us with small auxiliary heaters. The workers are friendly, they asked us how they could help us”, continues Jean. Leaving his apartment to accompany us to the elevator, he shows the dilapidated state of the place by pressing a pocket of water accumulated in the wall, which bursts under his fingers.
Damp engulfed all over the building, forcing the company responsible for the work to install blowers and industrial heaters throughout the height of the 16-storey building. Heading towards Vanessa’s apartment, we cross a real construction site, where the walls of the empty apartments have fallen and where we see water infiltration. While walking in the corridors, it is easy to stumble over a hole in the floor or over piles of stones.
« Look! They even broke at my house,” she says in English, pointing to her bathroom. Under the washbasin, a hole in the wall opens onto the neighboring old apartment, which is undergoing renovations. As the cold air passed, she put down a wooden plank to cover the opening.
The fear of excessive rent increases
Vanessa joined the “council of tenants”, which was formed in the building, supported by the Autonomous Syndicate of tenants of Montreal, which fights against many “renovictions” in the metropolis. The union accuses Cromwell of having pushed the tenants at the start, in order to renovate the building and to raise the rent. This, they fear, would deprive previous residents of returning “home”.
The tenants’ council is asking the manager of 3605 Saint-Urbain, in particular, for compensation for the inconveniences experienced. He asks that “the units be rented at an affordable rent agreed” by the tenants after the renovation.
“We would like at least to have drinking water all the time,” drops Jean, putting away a pile of papers showing the names of the various landlords to whom he has paid his rent for the past 20 years.
Among them: 9364-6685 Quebec inc. and Cromwell Management. Both companies are owned by real estate magnate George Gantcheff. The latter has been sued at the Housing Tribunal (TAL) on several occasions for rent increases considered abusive by tenants, according to several court decisions consulted by Subway. In any case, according to Vanessa, no rent collection has taken place since the start of the work.
Contacted by email and telephone, the Cromwell company did not respond to our requests.
*The first name has been changed.