- The LS Capital Group has been targeting Verdun residents for "renovictions," residents say.
- Ensemble Contre la Gentrification Verdun and the CACV are trying to make sure people can keep their homes.
- Read what Verdun locals have to say about the gentrification happening in their borough below.
Last week, we shared the story of Karine Laviolette, an elderly Verdun woman who has been in a fierce legal battle against LS Capital Group since last year, claiming that the company is unfairly pressuring her to vacate her apartment in a process known as "renoviction." LS Capital is one of the most powerful real estate developers in Montreal, once boasting a 95% tenant removal rate on its website. The company also prides itself on its "competitive advantage" in "finding and securing undervalued properties to revitalize or develop them to their full market value potential."
Stories like Laviolette's are far too common in Montreal. With rents almost doubling in apartment buildings across Verdun, once an enclave for affordable rental housing, local residents have to fight hard against the encroachments of companies like LS Capital.
Laviolette's neighbour, Felix-Antoine Carignan, is also facing pressure from LS Capital and has been fighting against forced "renovictions" for the better part of a year with some success. Carignan considers himself privileged because of his extensive knowledge of Quebec's rental laws but for others, fighting against groups like LS Capital is a daunting task.
For those who are less able to fight for themselves, groups like Verdun, Ensemble Contre la Gentrification and the Comité d’action des citoyennes et citoyens de Verdun (CACV) are there to help vulnerable residents resist forced evictions.
MTL Blog spoke with representatives from both the CACV and Verdun's anti-gentrification group to find out more about what's really going on in the borough and across the city.
MTL Blog has also reached out to LS Capital for a comment on this story, but its representatives did not immediately respond. They declined to comment on our previous story about Karine Laviolette.
Verdun Will Never Be The Same
Lyndsay O'Donnell has been living in Verdun for almost a decade. In her nine years in the neighbourhood, O'Donnell has seen many dramatic changes. With rising rents and ramped-up gentrification, Verdun is slowly becoming unrecognizable.
"The differences in the last 10 to 15 years have been astounding. I was used to walking around Verdun and knowing all my neighbours. Some change is good, but most of it — not so much," says O'Donnell.
"Gentrification is breaking apart communities and pushing people away from services that they need. When people are displaced from their neighbourhoods, it creates major issues in their personal lives."
O'Donnell decided that something had to be done after witnessing her neighbours' struggles against huge development groups like LS Capital.
"I saw my neighbour Karine and the things that are going on in my neighbourhood and we decided that we had to do something. Our Facebook group Verdun, Ensemble Contre la Gentrification has over 500 members. The idea is to mobilize people because although everyone is talking about gentrification, not much is happening in Verdun."
Renovictions = Good Business
Steve Baird, Community Organizer at the CACV says that LS Capital is especially focused on Verdun because of the neighbourhood's popularity and relative anonymity compared to other Montreal neighbourhoods.
"I would say that they are focused on Verdun more than any other neighbourhoods. Though they have other buildings, Verdun seems to be the place where they can flip the most buildings and make the most money," says Baird.
The pattern of what Verdun residents call "renovictions" isn't exclusive to LS Capital, though. Many other development firms have been pressuring people to leave their homes but LS Capital is one of the worst offenders, some say.
"Renovictions" are when a firm like LS Capital purchases a building, forcefully evicts residents to make cosmetic renovations, and then exorbitantly raises the rent, pushing low-income people out of the neighbourhood.
These are the economics of renovictions, as per LS Capital. Note that the company profits close to $300,000 after everything is said and done.
"When LS Capital buys a building, they know all the costs associated and the renovations they actually do are all cosmetic. These old apartments are not brand new condos, but they rent it for the same price of a brand-new condo — almost double what the original rent was," says Felix-Antoine Carignan.
"If they know if you're an immigrant or if you're an old lady, and then they put pressure on you and make you visit the Régie all the time and try to confuse you with paperwork and regulations."
Legal Loopholes Affect Marginalized Communities More Than Any Other
"It was so rare to see evictions before," says O'Donnell. "Now, it's an everyday thing. Whether it's a forceful eviction or a landlord offering their tenant money to move. It creates a situation where the person might be forced to take the money — especially marginalized people or people who are living in poverty."
A historically lower-income neighbourhood, Verdun is one of the only places in Montreal where people still have access to a reliable stock of affordable rental housing. The reality, residents say, is that groups like LS Capital are very effective at removing low-income individuals.
"The people that do stay, they end up going through this weird psychological torture. Constantly sending them to the Régie for trivial matters or exhausting tenants to the point where they leave so they can complete a "renoviction". It's a pattern we see with groups like LS Capital Group, especially in Verdun," says O'Donnell.
Baird tells us that companies always manage to exploit a legal loophole. Although it's difficult to see the direct consequences of gentrification in people's lives, the implication is obvious.
Translation: Evicted the previous tenants but rents for renovated apartments were 50% to 100% more than the original cost.
"Gentrification can have terrible consequences on people's lives, especially marginalized communities. There are still places in Verdun where rent doubles in one year and though that's not technically legal, companies get around it. The system that is currently in place certainly has its issues and there are ways where it's not always effective." says Baird.
"Even though Montreal is a progressive city in terms of tenant regulations, there are so many legal loopholes and they always exploit them," says O'Donnell.
What Can People Do?
Groups like Baird's CACV and O'Donnell's Facebook group are crucial to helping people navigate the minefield that is a forced eviction.
Baird hesitates to say that the CACV is advocating anti-gentrification but instead says that his committee is more focused on protecting tenants against companies like LS Capital.
"I think our message is more positive in that we're advocating for social housing and the importance of it to respond to the needs in our community," says Baird.
"I think the issue with LS Capital demonstrates that there are still many problems with tenants' rights and legal loopholes. We hope that in the coming years, we can make progress on reinforcing protections on tenants' rights and improving rent control on apartments."
Despite seemingly insurmountable odds, groups like the CACV and Verdun, Ensemble Contre la Gentrification are in for the long haul.
"Tenants can't often defend their rights and it's important that they get the help they need, especially against a company that's as aggressive as LS Capital," says Baird.
"It's a very difficult situation right now."
This article's cover image is for illustrative purposes only.