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Protect your fortress and defend your rights

March, 2011

Is your dwelling adequately heated? Is your landlord delaying essential repairs ? Is your rent leaving you with almost no income?

Project Genesis, in Côte des Neiges, can help you find solutions to these problems. For more than 30 years, it has provided a free drop-in information and referral service for Montrealers. Questions regarding pensions, family allowances, shelter allowances, social housing, private-market housing issues, tenant and landlord relations, and welfare issues are tackled daily by volunteers and a staff with a penchant for social justice.

Cathy Inouye has been a community organizer at Project Genesis for four years. She is especially concerned with housing issues.

“Housing is a major component of anti-poverty work,” Inouye says. “Because tenants spend so much money on rent, it’s nearly impossible for them to buy proper groceries or participate in recreational activities. People are so poor they can’t afford to take their friend out for a coffee. It’s crushing.”

In such areas as Côte des Neiges, this basic human need can become an everyday nightmare for people living in deplorable conditions and paying more than they can afford for housing. The area is facing a high rate of eviction and many more residents are “precariously housed.”

“You shouldn’t be paying more than 25 per cent of your income on rent,” Inouye says. “Many people in this area pay more than 50 per cent and there are statistics that show some people are paying more than 80 per cent. These people don’t have any money left over to do anything at the end of the day; they have to resort to soup kitchens. The conditions here are also quite bad—people are paying high rent for apartments that are in terrible shape. It’s a strange situation.”

Some of the problems residents face are a lack of heating. If the landlord is in control of the thermostat, the minimum standard of heating is 21 degrees Celsius, vermin infestations ranging from cockroaches to mice, bedbugs, hazardous mold, faulty wiring, and faulty plumbing.

“There are some really terrible landlords, big landlords who own many buildings. Often they are corporations, big numbered companies that aren’t even situated in Montreal, and they’re really letting these buildings fall apart,” Inouye says.

It’s not enough to talk to the janitor. Inouye encourages unhappy tenants to use all their recourses and enforce their protection under the Montreal housing code. “You have to notify your landlord. If your landlord doesn’t do something, you can write a letter (to the landlord) and send it by registered mail. Next, you can go to the municipal inspectors or the rental board.”

One serious issue confronting seniors is landlords trying to get them out of low rent apartments.

“If someone has been in an apartment for a long time and have been refusing abusive increases, they may find themselves paying a lot less rent than their neighbours—because landlords are often raising the rent more than what it needs to be,” Inouye says. “We often see landlords with an interest in getting these tenants to leave by using harassment techniques such as yearly unjustifiable rent increases. The tenant has to keep fighting and refusing them. It is important for tenants receiving abusive rent increases to know that they have the right to refuse.” Leases are automatically renewed in Quebec and tenants have one month to refuse an increase.

“It’s important to remember that even if you’re paying less rent than your neighbours, it’s a good thing,” she says, laughing. “You shouldn’t guilt yourself into feeling that you should be paying more rent.” Inouye says seniors should know that if they need to move to a nursing home or to social housing, they can break their lease after three months without penalty.

Unfortunately, many tenants find themselves waiting up to two years before receiving a hearing at the rental board, while landlords might get a hearing within four to six weeks if they want an eviction. Community organizers at Project Genesis mobilize to lobby the rental board, demonstrate on its front steps to denounce long delays, meet with the rental board administration and write letters to the minister of housing to change this.

“We are interested in systemic changes,” Inouye says, “not just one person’s hearing to happen faster, but for everyone to be heard in a reasonable amount of time.” Info: 514-738-2036.



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