They're dreaming of a world without landlords.
On a hot, sunny Saturday afternoon, a small group of Montreal renters gathered to plan together, collectively strategizing how to build power as tenants in the city.
The Syndicat de locataires de Montréal, or the Montreal Autonomous Tenants' Union (SLAM-MATU), brands itself as a direct democracy. Its goal is to no longer exist: SLAM wants to build a world without landlords, without the need for collective bargaining in order for people to be properly housed.
The union's structure encourages tenants under the same landlord to band together in building councils, which are then linked to the wider network of tenants under SLAM, according to organizer and cofounder Noah Merali.
The idea is that these building councils are able to negotiate more efficiently with smaller landlords. They can also draw from SLAM’s broader resources to push back against larger corporations in instances involving unfair practices.
SLAM began last fall, when McGill students in the Milton-Parc neighbourhood noticed a problem with housing in Montreal: there wasn't a clear way for renters to stand up to illegal and unsavoury actions by landlords across the city.
"A lot of our early stuff was just connecting people to each other," said union member Jules Dimant. "It's really rare to connect with people who are your neighbours, and the more we can encourage that, the stronger we are as a collective," he added.
This strategy combats what SLAM members referred to as hyperindividualism, which they argue is a byproduct of the capitalist system that produced a housing market in the first place — a market which SLAM members disagree with on principle.
There are issues with "commodifying housing instead of treating it as something that everyone deserves to have," Jules said, and this doesn't just affect active renters. "Unhoused members of the community also suffer [...] they're not separate from the system."
SLAM-MATU actively works with unhoused community members, holding each building council to standards that include treating everyone as equally deserving of a home.
This stance is one many landlords don’t agree with, per SLAM. Instead, landlord behaviour is often profit-motivated at the expense of tenant rights, Merali said.
"Something that we see a lot of, especially recently, are renovictions, where a tenant is forced out so the landlord can renovate the apartment and then double or triple the rent," they explained.
Both union members recalled numerous instances of landlords engaging in suspicious and antagonistic behaviour, such as withholding repairs until a tenant moves out, repeatedly shutting off the water to make living there untenable — and noted especially the power that corporate landlords hold.
"That's really where landlords, especially big companies, thrive: taking advantage of people who don't fully understand what they're entitled to," Merali argued.
SLAM-MATU is hoping to counteract mistreatment at the hands of landlords by sharing knowledge and ensuring that renters across Montreal not only understand their rights but also know that there are ways to push for these rights to be upheld — and not just through a year-long tribunal case.
When asked what they wanted to say to Montreal renters, Jules didn’t hesitate. "Everyone can organize. Anyone can organize," he told MTL Blog. "Our union isn't meant to be us swooping in and taking care of your problem. It's meant to be us, involving people in this larger mission, where we get up in arms against landlords."
Merali shared a similar sentiment. "All it takes is reaching out to your neighbours," they said. "Obviously we're here to help. We're here to connect people. But I don't think we're doing anything special, we're not doing anything that anyone can't do on their own."