Ariane Lalonde pays more than $1,200 a month for a studio apartment she’s converted to a two bedroom in Montreal — and she’s had enough.
“We’re all paying way too much,” said Lalonde, who feels that she should be paying at most $800 or $900 for the space she’s renting.
“My generation, we won’t be able to have a house,” she said. “I never thought I would not be able to when I was young. I took that for granted. It’s insane.”
Lalonde, who grew up in Gatineau and always dreamed of living in Montreal, feels caught between a rock and a hard place.
“The work is here, but not the possibility, the capacity to live here.”
Lalonde is far from alone. She and about 200 other tenants have now pledged to participate in a rent strike this fall to protest rent increases and Bill 31, which would allow landlords to unilaterally block lease transfers. The pledges are being collected by the Montreal Autonomous Tenants’ Union (MATU), which says it will call the rent strike if 5,000 or more people participate.
The rent strike would involve tenants withholding rental payments until their demands are met. According to one of the organizers, those demands could include a rent freeze or cap and amendments to Bill 31 to exclude a provision that would make lease transfers more difficult. The final strategy will depend on their momentum and the priorities agreed upon in strike assemblies.
“We see people who for the first time are struggling to choose between rent and groceries,” MATU organizer Sarah Toews said in an interview on CBC’s Let’s Go.
Toews, who considers the rent strike an “emergency response,” says their organization has already seen cases where landlords have refused legal lease transfers or illegally evicted longtime, elderly tenants from their homes.
“So we can only imagine how easy it will be for rent to skyrocket if this bill is passed.”
Rent in Montreal is among the fastest growing in Canada.
According to an August 2023 report by Rentals.ca, apartment and condo listings in Montreal saw a year-over-year increase of 15.3 per cent — a growth outpaced only by Brampton, Ont., (18.6 per cent) and Calgary, Alta., (16.1 per cent). Average listed rents in Montreal are now $1,987, ranging from $1,464 for a bachelor (or studio) apartment to $2,539 for a three-bedroom apartment.
These numbers are almost double the overall average rents in Montreal reported by the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation in 2022. Rents have also outpaced inflation: a $484-two-bedroom apartment in 1993 would cost $894 in today’s dollars, below the current costs of new and existing leases for a similar unit.
To keep rents affordable, many Quebec tenants have depended on apartment swaps and lease transfers.
“May,” a Montreal tenant of over 10 years whom CBC News is not identifying because she fears retaliation from her landlord as a sex worker with precarious employment, says she has primarily relied on lease transfers to secure housing because of her line of work.
May says she has auditory-processing issues which make it difficult for her to work in French. “So it’s difficult to find legitimate work.”
“You can’t really tell a landlord that you don’t have a pay stub because you’re self-employed, because you spend sensual time with men for your financial well-being.”
May believes that Bill 31 would lead to a “massive influx” of homelessness in Montreal and across Quebec.
“I’m in a relatively good position, and I could end up homeless because of this — like in the next year or two,” she said. “There are a lot of people in more precarious positions than I am. So yeah, f–k law 31.”
Rent strikes ‘not the solution’: landlord association
While Martin Messier, the president of the Quebec Landlords Association, expressed sympathy for the financial burdens tenants face amid high inflation and interest rates, he warns that a rent strike could cause a “ripple effect” that harms all parties.
“It would be the equivalent for landlords to stop paying mortgages,” Messier told Let’s Go, stressing that he’s heard from many landlords who are struggling because of the high interest rates and the rising costs of maintenance and repairs.
“In most situations, the landlords don’t have a choice,” said Messier, who has previously called Bill 31 “a bit of a nightmare for landlords” because it would require them to demonstrate “good faith” when evicting tenants.
“They have to file [for non-payment of rent and eviction] to try to get the rent so that they’re able to pay their mortgages, taxes and every other obligation.”
He says that a rent strike is “not an adequate solution,” and instead, suggests open discussions between landlords and tenants instead to resolve disputes.
But the organizers from MATU remain optimistic. They say that rent strikes are their “most powerful tool as tenants,” pointing to both recent rent strikes in Toronto as well as a successful three-month strike in 2017 as evidence that rent strikes can work in their favour.
“If we manage to pull off a big rent strike in Montreal, we can do great things for our conditions as tenants,” said co-organizer Samuel Helguero.