A Montreal studio apartment for rent has been making waves on social media — because it's actually a converted car garage.
A now-deleted Kijiji ad for the space put the rent at $505 per month.
"It was a garage initially, transformed into a studio," the ad stated, adding that the apartment included an oven, fridge, toaster, TV, wardrobe, BBQ and a table.
Heat, electricity and Wi-Fi were included in the rent.
It was described as "ideal for a single person, worker [or] student."
The closed door of the former garage was visible in the photos on Kijiji.
An address wasn't listed, but the ad said the space was eight minutes by bus from the Henri-Bourassa metro station in the Ahuntsic-Cartierville borough.
Screenshots of the Kijiji ad posted to the popular mtlflextv Instagram account amassed over 5,000 likes and 200 comments. Followers of the page mostly poked fun at the apartment listing and implied that it demonstrated the state of the Montreal rental market.
So did a tenant rights group.
The Regroupement des comités logement et associations de locataires du Québec (RCLALQ) shared a photo of the listing on Facebook.
"Housing at $500, said Premier François Legault a few months ago," the group captioned the post, referring to the premier's now-infamous suggestion that Montreal rents "start at $500 or $600 a month" — a comment that many of his opponents and tenant groups denounced as out of touch.
Contacted by MTL Blog, the person who posted the Kijiji ad for the garage studio declined to comment on this story.
They told the Journal de Montréal, however, that they were not the owner of the property but had been living in the apartment.
This article’s cover image was used for illustrative purposes only.
The Regroupement des comités logement et associations de locataires du Québec (RCLALQ), a local tenant advocacy group, has told MTL Blog that it condemns a tenant blacklist website that says it's based in the U.S. and Canada.
The website, called Liste Noire, defines itself as a "global company that helps both building owners and property managers avoid losses or rental problems with certain individuals."
The site invites users to "simply add your tenants who are causing you or have caused you headaches" and "search the database to see if anyone has been registered."
In its "About" section, it says its "mission is to allow you to create an intelligent database that will allow you to make an easy and precise search based on some basic information in order to gain confidence in the face of a tenant at risk of causing you problems."
"While this website, in particular, does not appear to be well established, it can be harmful and should be reported to the CDPDJ, something we are already in the process of doing," the RCLALQ said.
"We condemn this kind of website that can be used as a means to discriminate against low-income tenants, people of colour, families, disabled tenants, and tenants who simply defend their rights."
In a statement shared with MTL Blog, the Commission des droits de la personne et des droits de la jeunesse (CDPDJ) said it could not directly comment or give a legal opinion on Liste Noire.
It did note that, generally, "the collection of information on prospective tenants prior to the conclusion of a lease must respect the right to equality and the prohibition of discrimination set out in the Quebec Charter of Human Rights and Freedoms."
"Therefore, an owner cannot refuse to rent an apartment on the basis of one of the grounds of discrimination listed in the Charter."
The May 23 tweet by Montrealer Sam Donald compares the Montreal of 2021 to famously expensive Toronto — a city whose glitzy glass towers and lack of accessible cultural offerings (at least, according to Quebecers) are often the subject of anecdotal warnings by Montrealers worried about the fate of their city's vulnerable indie arts scene amid a rising cost of living.
Montréal 2011: do you want to live in a city with low rent, a thriving music scene and great locally owned bars?
Donald, who is a city council candidate for Balarama Holness' Mouvement Montréal party, told MTL Blog that "it seems like the people in power are pushing a corporatization of Montréal at the expense of the culture that's at the heart of the city."
"I came to Montréal because of the city's artist-friendly culture and accessible rents, which seem to be disappearing at the hands of our local government," they said.
Tenant rights groups have called on political leaders to take action.
In a June survey, the Regroupement des comités logements et associations de locataires du Québec (RCLALQ) declared that "the price of housing is exploding in Quebec." The group's survey showed an 11% increase in the price of a two-bedroom Montreal-area apartment between 2020 and 2021.
The RCLALQ called on "François Legault's government to implement real measures to guarantee access to affordable housing," including a public rent registry.
Ahead of the September federal election, the Front d'action populaire en réaménagement urbain (FRAPRU) is also calling on federal party leaders to "make clear commitments to social housing" to address the housing crisis.
Mayor Valérie Plante and her party, Projet Montréal, committed Tuesday to "stimulate the construction" of 2,000 new affordable student housing units in Montreal "as early as 2022" — after the November 2021 municipal election.
"Montreal is one of the top 10 university cities in the world. If it wants to stay that way, we have to protect the affordability of housing," Plante said in a statement.
"The attractiveness of the city, our ability to attract talent and therefore our economic development depend on it."
The administration plans to use what's called its "first right of refusal" — essentially first dibs on a property — to "acquire land dedicated to affordable housing in areas near major post-secondary institutions."
It also plans to support non-profit initiatives and push for student housing in large projects like the conversion of the old Royal Victoria hospital.
Projet Montréal plans to acquire land for the student housing between 2022 and 2025.
But a Quebec nonprofit is trying to put the agency back into the hands of local renters. La Base, an organization that works to create, operate and support open data projects, has built a citizens' rent registry, providing the public with a place to review rent prices online before committing to a lease.
Tenants who are already locked into a lease can log their own rent on an interactive map in order to inform potential future tenants in the same unit, building or neighbourhood. You'll also find tenant rights Q&As built into the site.
How do I use the registry?
Anyone can go to the Registre Des Loyers website and anonymously add their lease information to the registry. This means your rent will become publicly available data that the public can see as they explore the interactive map.
If you don't agree with the price, you can bring your case to the Tribunal administratif du logement (TAL) to fix the rent guided by a calculation based on previous rent prices. But, as the TAL explains on its calculation form, "the amounts provided by the landlord have not been verified by the Housing Authority and are the sole responsibility of the landlord."
"In Quebec, the lowest price paid for a unit is what legal increases [are based on], but the party that provides this information is also the party that would benefit from lying about this information," said Adam Mongrain, director of La Base.
"Someone knows exactly how to price it to get the maximum amount of money, and the other person does not have all the information to negotiate properly [...] So having this information in Quebec is especially useful."
The registry creates "transparency," Mongrain said.
Where did the idea for the registry come from?
Mongrain said the registry is not a new idea.
In June 2020, Québec solidaire MNA Andrés Fontecilla introduced a private member's bill asking the government to create a "Rent Register, which allows a lessee to know the rent paid in the last five years for a dwelling."
"Tenant advocacy groups have been making the case for a rental registry for a very long time now," Mongrain said.
"What we decided to do with the Registre Des Loyers is just not wait for the government and do it ourselves."
What is the ultimate goal of the registry?
Since launching in June, Mongrain said the registry has gotten upwards of 5,000 new lease submissions. Combined with the 6,000 leases already added during the testing phase, that makes for 11,000 publicly accessible rent prices or data points on the map.
"It means that people see the value and want to do something about the housing crisis," Mongrain said.
With more participation in the registry comes more comments in the comments field.
Mongrain gave the example of a Montrealer who wrote that they'd gone to court twice to keep their landlord from raising the rent from $1,500 a month to $3,000 — a 100% increase.
"We are hoping to influence consumer behaviours to incentivize good acting by actors in the market," Mongrain said.
"As people provide more and more information, and as more and more people sign up for the rental registry, it becomes something to keep in mind if you are someone who rents out units because there's a fair chance that the people we are renting out to know their rights and have access to or will access the rental registry."