BY April Tardif Levesque
Jo Roy and their partner moved to Montreal’s old port to be near their partner’s job. The waiter’s salary used to cover the pair’s living expenses, while Roy worked to finish their social work degree. The lease was signed in February 2020, and COVID-19 turned their plans upside-down shortly after.
“The income we thought would come in was completely wrecked,” Roy says. “My partner now regularly makes under minimum wage because folks don’t tip and aren’t coming in, so finances have been tight since the pandemic began.”
Roy’s partner found the level of uncertainty to be as high as their rent.
“My partner’s mental health was getting taxed by the finances and the clients at work,” Roy says. “It’s apparently so difficult for people to wear masks, so they have reduced their hours a bit. My partner might qualify for some assistance from the government, but we’re still looking into that.”
To help with rent, Roy now works as a peer support training coordinator, is in the preliminary stages for two research assistant positions, and is a driver, all while doing an unpaid internship in an addiction response team. Despite all this, Roy had to ask his family for help.
“The only respite we’ve gotten from the landlord is that there is no increase in rent if someone chooses to renew their lease, which we won’t,” says Roy. “They did have a sale on parking last fall, which saw a slight reduction in the $225 per month price tag for parking in our building.”
However, Roy was not anticipating much assistance from the rental company in charge of their building.
“Our building is owned by a rental conglomerate in the city,” Roy says. “I could hardly get a deal on shortening a parking rental last summer, so there is no way the building would reduce rent.”
Maxime Roy-Allard from the RCLALQ tenant association says they had more inquiries during the pandemic from people unable to pay rent due to income loss.
“I would say it’s business as usual for a major housing crisis: evictions, massive rent increases, and discrimination,” Roy-Allard says. The tenant associations also had to close their physical offices, which made it more challenging for tenants to receive much-needed services.
“It’s hard to say whether landlords were more reasonable due to the pandemic,” he says. “Some did, allowing tenants to pay rent later, but others didn’t and we saw many eviction cases for non-payment related to tenants losing their employment income.”
Roy-Allard says the moratorium helped for a time, but only temporarily.
“When the moratorium lifted, evictions continued as usual and we saw many of them,” he says. “Many people have been consulting tenant committees concerning evictions.”
The RCLALQ says there was a rise of 40 per cent in households whose landlords wanted them evicted in 2020. Of the 597 attempts at eviction, 60 per cent involved a new landlord whose motive is assumed by the association to be turnover to increase rent revenue. According to the RCLALQ, half of those tenants have lived in the locations for at least 10 years, and pay less rent than a neighbour in rent.
François Bonhomme, the communications director for the Association des propriétaires du Québec (APQ), says landlords have also been squeezed by the pandemic. He says landlords were put in a confusing situation during the moratorium on evictions.
“Some people who could pay decided they wouldn’t, because they couldn’t be evicted,” says Bonhomme. He says it made it difficult for landlords who were prepared to offer flexible repayment on rent arrears or payment plans. Another issue landlords began to face more often was inter-tenant disputes arising from the new teleworking reality.
“We have people now working from home who wouldn’t otherwise be home during the day who complain about noises like the neighbour’s kids,” Bonhomme says.
“There is a misconception that landlords are wealthy owners,” says Bonhomme. “But most individual landlords are regular families trying to pay off a mortgage, and don’t always own the property.”
While banks offered some deferral options on mortgage payments, landlords got no assistance from the government according to Bonhomme.
To explain rising rent costs, Bonhomme points to the costs of repairs, the materials for which got even more expensive during the pandemic. The Montreal vacancy rate, which the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation (CMHC) has averaged to 2.7 per cent for 2020, has increased from between 1.4 and 2.2 per cent in 2019, depending on the number of units in the building. Bonhomme echoes the report, saying students and temporary or foreign workers are not in Montreal due to the pandemic, and big buildings in certain boroughs, such as the Sud-Ouest and downtown are seeing less renters.
“People are also moving back to be with family, or getting roommates because of COVID,” Bonhomme says. He added it could be a question of affordability, location, or just to be with family during the lockdown periods. He adds that many tenants did not move as intended due to the pandemic, and were afraid to visit apartments or move because of restrictions.
Jo Roy plans to move with their partner to a bigger, less expensive apartment with their partner when the lease is up and looks forward to being free of the existing rental costs.