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Residents of Montreal apartment building fight ‘renoviction,’ take protest to their balconies

There are more and more stories of Montrealers being forced out of their homes so landlords can renovate and charge new tenants more.

Many renters accept their fate and plunge into the volatile Montreal rental market. People living in one 90-unit building in the Plateau, however, are not backing down. The building’s balconies are decorated with large blue signs denouncing ownership and a “renoviction.”

“The first night I didn’t sleep at all, but after that, I said to myself: ‘I’m going to fight,”‘ 68-year-old Renee Thifault told Global News of finding out her landlord was asking to leave her Plateau apartment after 14 years.

Thifault very much enjoys living at Manoir Lafontaine, a high-rise apartment building on Papineau Avenue right across from Lafontaine Park.

She pays less than $700 per month for her two-and-a-half apartment, a price that’s nearly impossible to find in the Plateau these days. The owner of the building now wants her and everyone else living here to leave.

Tenants were all given a notice on March 31, saying major renovations are needed in the building, constructed in the 1960s. All 90 units must be vacated for at least seven months by June 30.

“It was kind of the worst moment for us to receive this notice, due to the obvious conditions of the market and the pandemic,” said Michel Trujillo, who lives in an apartment with his partner Daily Hernandez and their two children.

The building is owned by Hillpark Capital. Founding partner Brandon Shiller told Global News that when his company acquired the buildings two years ago, it was in an advanced state of disrepair.

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“We are now obligated to temporarily relocate our tenants to ensure their safety and well-being during this necessary intensive construction period,” he said.

Residents aren’t buying it.

“It’s not true that it’s for our protection,” said Thifault.

“Their main goal has always been to empty the building,” said Hernandez.

Residents wonder who would come back after having been forced to leave for seven months or more.

To compensate each resident for costs they’ll incur for moving and renting another home in the meantime, Hillpark is offering to pay each resident $1,959.

“It’s not even going to cover two months of rent,” said Hernandez.

Tenants believe they’re being “renovicted.” They think the owners will renovate the building and put the units back on the market for a much higher price. They’ve decided not to back down.

“We’re fighting this together,” said Joe Wasserman.

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The residents all met Monday evening and are refusing the owner’s demand. They’ve mobilized on a Facebook group and are courting politicians for support. They say they’ll bring Hillpark Capital to the Quebec Housing Tribunal if necessary.

“Is it necessary to evacuate everyone from the building for the entire seven months?” wonders housing rights advocate Cloé Fortin of the Comité Logement du Plateau Mont-Royal.

She said before the tribunal, the owners would have to present a valid reason that nobody could be there during the renovations. Residents say they have no problem staying while necessary repairs are done.

Fortin said Hillpark has “renovicted” other buildings in the area and that they would also need to compensate people adequately for their time outside their homes.

Dupuis said standing up to the building’s owners will discourage others from doing the same thing.

The notice residents received at Manoir Lafontaine also refers to asbestos, but residents don’t buy that either.

“On the asbestos, what I would like is for the City of Montreal to come here and to check each apartment to make sure it’s actually present,” said Wasserman.

Laurence Houde-Roy, a spokesperson for the Plante administration, told Global News will be sending an inspector this week to evaluate the state of the building.

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