On Sept. 20, hearings about Bill 31 wrapped up in the National Assembly. The bill proposes a number of changes to current housing legislation, including altering eviction procedures and allowing landlords to prevent lease transfers. Since the bill’s tabling, housing group coalitions such as Regroupement des comités logement et associations de locataires du Québec (RCLALQ) have organized protests in opposition, arguing that it deprives tenants of integral rights while failing to address key causes of the housing crisis. This bill is indicative of whose voices are being heard by the provincial government, through both the Quebec landlord coalition, and by virtue of the fact that so many of our politicians are landlords themselves—an obvious conflict of interest that often goes unmentioned. In removing the ability to lease transfer, this bill is a blatant attempt to deprive tenants of the already very limited power they have.
In a city where it is extremely difficult to find adequate, realistically affordable housing––not just what the Quebec government deems affordable––preventing lease transfers will exacerbate an already dire housing crisis. Under current laws, lease transfers are the backbone of solidarity between tenants, who can prevent landlords from drastically hiking rent by transferring their lease to prospective inhabitants. Allowing landlords to obstruct this process will force many to stay in unlivable situations. Whether it is an abusive landlord or a toxic roommate situation, lease transfers are often the only way to escape an unfit living environment without a disastrous financial cost.
Bill 31 further imbalances the already-fraught relationship between tenants and landlords. It is reductive to view this relationship as one between customers and vendors, given the blatant power dynamics at play when one party has total control over the other’s housing—a basic human right. Within the student community in particular, age, gender, and citizenship often contribute to this uneven power dynamic. Landlords frequently ignore regulations and laws, assuming––often rightfully so––that students are either unaware of their rights, or will be too timid or financially unstable to seek legal action.
Although the bill is largely harmful to tenant rights, there are two clauses that may help limit landlords’ overwhelming power. By requiring them to disclose how much they plan on increasing rent over a five-year period, landlords will need to be transparent, preventing them from surprising tenants with drastic rent hikes. The bill will also shift eviction processes, by assuming that tenants who do not respond to eviction notices have rejected the eviction—rather than assuming they have accepted it, as is the case now. This change will force landlords to defend their eviction in court, should the tenant not respond to their notice. Despite these small steps toward protecting tenants, the numerous steps backward far outweigh them. Bill 31 fails to address any of the core issues causing the housing crisis, including rent hikes, Airbnbs, and the lack of affordable housing.
The fight for housing must be part of a labour revolution. In the same way labour unions rally for fair working conditions, every housing-related action is a political stance justifying or criticizing the current system—including staying silent about it. The housing crisis most prominently affects marginalized communities, and as students we must always work to defend their rights. We must stand in solidarity with the Black and Indigenous peoples who have been dispossessed from their neighbourhoods and had their land stolen out from under them as we move forward.
It is high time that the provincial government stops protecting landlords, and starts prioritizing the creation of more affordable housing options for tenants. This must include implementing rent controls, disincentivizing ownership of multiple properties, and ensuring that tenants have access to clear and comprehensive information about their rights and abilities. Montreal cannot hold onto its historic reputation as a city for young people in the workforce, artists, and students, without addressing the endemic failure of its housing system. The housing crisis must be addressed with real solutions that protect lower-income and racialized communities from gentrification, provide actual affordable housing, and enable freedom of movement between living situations. Bill 31 does not address the lived experiences of the housing crisis and therefore, must be stopped.