Photo via CityNews.
On June 9th, 2023, France-Elaine Duranceau, the Minister Responsible for Housing, announced a new legislation, An Act to Amend Various Legislative Provisions With Respect to Housing, known as Bill 31. It affects both tenants and landlords by modifying eviction procedures and lease transfers. The law will be debated in the National Assembly in the fall, after its recess. It advertised itself as a response to the growing housing crisis in Montreal, yet it has received pushback from both landlords and tenants. Many housing organizations have pursued action by protesting in the streets.
Normally, tenants who did not respond to an eviction notice from their landlord were assumed to have accepted it. However, Bill 31 modifies this policy and makes any unanswered eviction notice signify an automatic refusal. The burden of proof is now on the landlord to defend their position. Once a tenant is evicted, the owner owes them financial compensation. Currently, the compensation allotted is three months’ worth of rent. The new bill demands one month’s payment for every year lived in the property, at a maximum of 24 months. Finally, landlords were previously allowed to increase rent as they saw fit. With the advent of the new bill, they would have to warn the renter of the possible rent increase spanning a duration of five years.
The most controversial amendment is its modification of lease transfers. Usually, tenants were allowed to give out the remainder of their lease to another person. This was primarily done to avoid penalties that would ensue for an incomplete rental. The landlord was also compelled to charge the new tenant the same rent as the previous one. However, Bill 31 permits landlords to reject lease transfer requests without providing a reason. The landlord will also be within their rights to completely cancel the lease. If the landlord accepts the lease transfer, they are able to charge up to 10% additional rent.
Property owners in Quebec have raised their concerns about the new law, which its supporters hope will pass before Christmas. According to the Quebec Landlord Association (APQ), the private rental market is already suffering from the “overwhelming obligations” of current housing regulations. Martin Mercier, president of the association, says it is a “setback,” but also acknowledges the lease transfer change as a positive. In its statement, the APQ focuses its concern on the housing market as well as property rights.
Renters have also been vocal about their opinions on the new law, primarily represented by housing rights organizations. The primary point of contention regards the lease transfers which were seen by many people as an effective protesting tactic against rent increases. Housing organizations have vocalized their opposition to the law on the basis of its inefficiency towards the housing crisis. Catherine Lussier, an organizer of the Front d’Action Populaire en Réaménagement Urbain, argues that revoking this right from tenants is akin to accepting constant rent increases.
In response to this criticism, Duranceau defended the decision by claiming it was not the responsibility of tenants to control the rent. Meanwhile, Quebec Solidaire has opposed the new law. The party posted an online petition that called to retract the lease transfer clause. MNA André Fontecilla described it as a “major setback.” He claims that the new legislation does not effectively address the housing crisis caused by short-term rentals.
On June 22nd protests were organized near the Parc metro station in Montreal as well as in Quebec City. The event occurred shortly before Moving Day, a symbolic day in Quebec from the time when leases would be fixed. Thousands gathered in order to protest against the cancellation of lease assignments, which was seen as one of the biggest protests for housing rights.
The Canadian housing crisis initially surfaced in cities like Toronto and Vancouver but has recently made its way to Montreal. On July 1st, 2022, 750 renter households were unable to get housing, and 24,000 people were on the waiting list for a new living space. As the availability of properties decreases, stemming from the scarcity resulting from poor housing policy in the 80s, more and more people will become priced out of their own homes.
The CAQ’s long-awaited bill attempts to tackle the increasing rent in a way that will satisfy both renters and landlords, yet none of them are pleased with its implications. The annulation of lease transfers, as well as the amendments made to eviction procedures, have not meaningfully addressed the root causes of the housing crisis. In fact, it can be a driver for getting people out of their homes, and not be able to find any places to live, as landlords will still be free to increase rent prices as they see fit. It does contribute to increased availability on the market, whether in terms of affordability or supply. Were the bill to pass this upcoming fall, the future generation of renters would be the first to live through its consequences.