The Landlord Industrial Complex: An Personal Account
Updated: May 3
The Landlord Industrial Complex - Meals for Milton Parc Newsletter
Apr 28 2021
2-4 pages MLA or APA
In September, my partner and I moved into a city apartment together. While we both met on the other side of the country, Montreal had been my dream city. In the late summer, we were looking for apartments remotely, and set our sights on a beautiful retro-outfitted apartment right in the middle of downtown.
It was a multi-unit occupied by immigrants and low-income families in a central location for very affordable rent. Neither of us predicted how our lives would turn into an unending battle for basic accommodations against flagrant abuse of power.
The rental required a first month’s security deposit and government identification for credit scores. The lease came with a six page contract full of illegal clauses. This included several lines trying to erase tenant’s rights to sublet, withhold rent for repairs, or receive any compensation for inconveniences as a result of repairs or extermination. Although we tried to negotiate the contract, pointing out several unenforceable clauses, and that collecting any kind of security deposit is illegal [x], they would not budge and told us the extra rules simply wouldn’t be enforced. We were pressured by the landlords with the risk of losing the apartment, and so we had to accept.
The first issues came before we even moved into the unit. As I was flying into Montreal, my partner and I made plans for a two-week quarantine. We found out the landlord wanted to perform renovations after our move-in date, despite the fact the unit had been sitting empty for over two years. The landlords cited that painting and repairs were part of the contract, even though Quebec tenancy law states a unit must be cleared and ready for move-in by the date the lease starts.
The only reason the apartment was cleared and vacated two days into our lease was because I called management and informed them they were breaking the law. The rental manager tried to tell me that because I am foreign, that I was incapable of understanding the laws and that I just didn’t understand “how things worked”. Painting was done the next day and management agreed to postpone the rest. When we moved in, the dirty possessions from the last people were still inside.
Technically, the lease had been violated before we even moved in, but with my flight arriving in less than a week, we needed a place to stay. We lacked the flexibility needed to make other accommodations possible, and even if we did, our landlords had money and information over our heads.
After moving in, we immediately began to struggle with repairs. The building had a designated repair team, however, communication with them was difficult. The email line was not regularly checked. We would set an appointment to have someone fix something, then it would be postponed for weeks at a time. The guys that showed up never knew what repair was needed, never wore masks, and came hours early or late. Often once someone showed up, they would disappear again and not respond for several more weeks. It was impossible to get a final answer since they would give us just enough response to get us off their back, but never actually follow through. When we tried to follow up, we were often told only the building owner could help us, or that it was not their responsibility. We became consumed by constant and unpredictable repairs.
We then discovered our unit had both mice and cockroaches. The landlord called for a cockroach treatment, which required us to pack all of our things into boxes for months. Despite knowing the condition, our landlords proceeded to have the kitchen floors redone while the cockroach treatment was in effect. A month later, when the exterminator pointed out that the treatment was ruined, the landlords fired him and we never heard from him again. We resorted to using herbal remedies and hoping for the best.
The repairs that were done were insufficient. A moldy wall was never replaced, but covered up with plywood. The floor tiles were also covered, not replaced. We began to research the history of our unit and discovered the unit had flooded a few years back, and then found even more mold in the ceiling. We discovered the building’s strict policy about repainting the walls was because they likely contained asbestos and lead paint which was undisclosed.
The building, too, was falling apart in ways we didn’t realize. The elevators were constantly broken, and the stairwell was quite literally smeared with shit. Balconies on half the side of the building were unfinished. There were gaping holes in the walls in the hallways and broken fixtures everywhere. If the power or heating is off, notices would be posted in the elevator, yet we got no prior notice that the repair team would be entering our apartment to fix it.
The city’s required COVID precautions, like routine cleaning, were not taken that I know of. There was only a sign for people to wear masks in the elevator, which was torn down and not replaced. We approached our rental manager and found out that she didn’t believe in COVID-19 and thought it was a government conspiracy. We became more isolated at home since it was nearly impossible to exit the building without encountering someone unmasked in the elevator.
We became more concerned about how to regain our personal information. This led my partner to investigate our landlords, finding increasingly unsettling hints about our landlords’ past. Articles appeared about someone with our landlord’s name involved in a fraud case. Records of parent companies that owned the building also had a questionable past. At this time, we started to keep a strict record of all interactions with our landlord and her higher-up management. By this point, we were so persistent we learned that management was prohibited from speaking to us.
We often saw neighbors have their rent cheated from them using arbitrary rules. The landlords broke tenancy law flagrantly, but when an issue was raised by their tenant, they would make up rules or avoid being held accountable and delay. When we saw one of our neighbors have several notices for eviction on their door due to late payment, we slipped them a note saying that they should ask for their deposit back to pay for the rent. One man was left screaming at a locked office door trying to submit his lease termination. The office refused to accept it on the grounds that it was a day late, even though it was Monday and the office was not open on Sunday.
During this time, we thought often about unionizing the other tenants. We felt powerless against retaliation, but our chances would be better if everyone acted together. We were certainly not the only ones dealing with inhabitable living conditions. Several other tenants mentioned their apartments had mice and roaches, but simply lived with the conditions. Potentially hundreds of people had been required to give their socials and pay an illegal first month’s deposit. Even during a global pandemic, management was jumping to evict.
We struggled to think of a way to reach everyone that wouldn’t trace back to us. We were reluctant to knock on doors. Everyone we talked to was resigned to the exploitation. They lived under fear of losing their homes or facing deportation. No one had the finances to risk being targeted. Soon it became clear that even with a union, we would never have the upper hand.
While we tried to address the personal information situation, management constantly changed their word about where our files were being held, even sending my partner on a wild goose chase to find the non-existent office of their “parent company” which hadn’t existed in decades. When we finally quoted the TAL's Personal Information Guidelines to the owner and demanded to have our information deleted, we got a vague email back saying nothing illegal had been done. As with our other repair situations, gaslighting and legal intimidation was employed freely. If the owner was ever in the building, they quite literally locked themselves in the office to avoid confrontation. They made it clear the matter would not be addressed.
We considered taking the security issue to the Regie. We were convinced that a record of their lies would be enough. But after several phone calls, we found the Regie had no formal authority to make our landlords delete the information. They could only send a notice that contained a full transcript of our report with our information included. If the landlords didn’t comply, the Regie had no way to enforce it.
So even with months of phone and email conversations as evidence, we couldn’t get anything done without legal action, and we had no idea how we could pay for that. They had more funds and legal expertise. Even in a court of law we couldn’t win. It was clear they would not play fair, and had more than the means to get away from it.
There are still countless families and individuals living under the tyranny of their cycle of exploitation. The landlords preyed on renters through any means possible. We were vulnerable and powerless. We finally decided to try to keep contact low and stay on their good side.
We had initially believed we could fight them, but we soon realized how pointless that was. Taking action to protect ourselves would only mean further exposing ourselves to losing everything. The rental situation we found ourselves in goes far beyond one greedy landlord, but a scheme precisely executed to extract as many funds as possible from hundreds of vulnerable parties. Some days I wonder exactly how far up the chain it goes and if it’s even possible to escape at this point.
“Tenant Rights and Landlord Rights in Quebec.” Tenant Rights and Landlord Rights in Quebec, www.tenantrights.ca/facts/quebec#:~:text=Quebec%20law%20allows%20for%20a%20rent%20increase%20when,the%20lease%20before%20they%20sign%20the%20rental%20agreement.