A Montreal-based coalition for tenants’ rights believes the Regie du logement takes too long to deal with complaints.
During a press conference last Friday, The ‘Coalition Justice pour les locataires’ demanded the Minister responsible for Housing, Nathalie Normandeau, and the Regie du logement respond to urgent complaints within 72 hours and all other complaints on a first-come, first-serve basis within three months.
The Regie du logement, a tribunal that is responsible for hearing complaints of tenants and landlords alike, takes anywhere between 1.5 to 9.5 months to hear “urgent” cases and up to two years for “general” cases.
Urgent cases affect the health and security of the complainer, whereas regular cases may include problems such as minor repairs that a landlord has failed to attend to or a tenant with a pet that is not allowed on the premises.
“We want the public to be involved and we want to send a message to the minister responsible, and to the Régie, that this situation is completely unacceptable and they need to do something about it,” said Jennifer Auchinleck of Project Genesis, a tenants’ rights organization that is part of the Coalition.
Students are also affected by this situation. Jonathan Elston is a coordinator at the Concordia Student Union (CSU) off-campus Housing and Job Bank, another member of the Coalition.
“The problem directly impacts their lives in more ways than we can even see,” he said.
Since they usually fit into the low-income bracket, many students run the risk of falling prey to negligent landlords. Consequently, they may be living with problems such as vermin and dysfunctional stoves and fridges, all of which can affect their quality of life.
Between January and October there have been approximately 1,200 students that have approached the CSU’s off-campus Housing and Job Bank with such issues. “The problem is extremely serious for students,” stressed Elston.
In a meeting that Project Genesis had with the Regie in August, the proposed changes for dealing with complaints were put forward but badly received, said Auchinleck.
“We really felt that the issue around the landlords getting rent on time rather than tenants’ complaints held more importance to the Regie,” she said.
The Regie currently responds to eviction cases within 1.4 months, while responses to urgent cases takes 1.5 months, confirmed Jean-Pierre Leblanc, the spokesperson for the Regie du Logement.
“This is because the hearings are longer for the urgent cases as compared to cases of eviction,” said Leblanc, in a telephone interview.
The Regie has adopted two solutions to shorten its response-time to cases.
It has set-up the Service de Conciliation, which arranges meetings between commissioners and complainers, to possibly reach an agreement without a hearing. It also hired eight new commissioners at the beginning of the year to deal with the huge backlog of cases.
Christina Xydous of POPIR-Comité Logement, another organization in the Coalition, believes the solutions are a step in the right direction but not enough to quickly resolve the situation.
Leblanc said that at the end of March this year, there were 21,700 old cases waiting to be heard, while the current figure is 20,000. He believes the Regie is doing its part.
“The situation will change during this year. It’s a special year for the Regie,” he said.
A horror story
Dejai Barnes knows dealing with the Regie du logement can be a grueling process, and that tenants tend to have the short-end of the stick.
The problems started when the political science and German language student found a leak in his kitchen last November.
“I called the manager and he sent a maintenance guy and he re-plastered.”
When February came around, the same leak re-appeared. This time, the maintenance man said he couldn’t fix it, suggesting that he get a professional.
Appealing to his landlord to no avail, the leak had expanded by March.
“We were in the upper floor. Black, slimy water was not just dropping, it was pouring. We had to change the bowl where the water was falling every hour or less,” he said.
The maintenance man came again, but this time he just scraped up the ceiling, which accelerated the flow. Barnes and his girlfriend called the le Regie de Logement, and they were told to send a registered letter to their landlord.
When they heard nothing back from the owner, the Rental Board told them to call a city inspector.
By this time a new leak had appeared in the washroom. “[The inspector] came and said that the leak was bad but not enough to evacuate the apartment.”
The landlord had 10 days to take action, but since the inspector forgot to send the letter by registered mail, Barnes and his girlfriend had to wait another 10 days. On April 11th, the last day of the landlord’s deadline to take action, roofers showed up. Barnes decided to sue their landlord.
“We were paying for services that were not provided. The whole situation was not just inconvenient, it was unhealthy.”
Barnes said it is not even about money, but about the stress and lack of courtesy they faced.’We never even spoke to the owner. It is as though he doesn’t acknowledge our existence,” he said.
The owner of his apartment also owns several others in Montreal. The Rental Board told Barnes he had to inform his landlord in person or via registered letter that he was suing him.
“I went and met one of his brothers. I gave him the claim and he threw it back in my face and asked why I hadn’t sent it by registered mail,” he said. According to Barnes, the owner then said “if these were the old days…” and raised his hand. Barnes felt threatened and he left, sending the claim by registered mail with an apology.
“I was nervous and afraid,” he said. Barnes was informed by the Rental Board that it will take two years for his claim to be processed, and he finds this is unfair. “If you are a landlord and you sue your tenant it takes eight to nine months. If it is the opposite it takes two years. The Rental Board is favouring landlords,” he said.
Barnes is an American citizen and he does not know if he will have to go back home before his claim is processed.
“Landlords are rooted here, while tenants are not,” he said.