MONTREAL — A major Montreal real estate developer says it will let Quebec's housing tribunal determine the compensation for a tenant in a $400-a-month apartment whose case risks delaying a major construction project.
Mondev senior partners Michael and David Owen say they've already made numerous offers to tenant Carla White, who has so far refused to leave her apartment so it can be demolished to make way for a 176-unit mixed-use building.
A municipal committee decided earlier this month to approve the demolition of the building, on the condition that the developer demonstrate that the file has been settled with the holdout tenant. That decision has been appealed, though the developers say they weren't the ones to do it.
White, who was previously homeless, has said she doesn't want to leave until she's provided with an acceptable apartment on a long-term affordable lease, or enough compensation to ensure she won't have to return to the streets.
In an interview on Wednesday, Michael Owen said the developer sees "no path" to reaching an agreement with White, who he says is demanding a "penthouse apartment worth thousands a month" on an indefinite lease.
"It seems, to a certain extent, that she is using this opportunity to either better her lifestyle or hold us for ransom almost, because the things that she's requesting are way beyond the norm," he said.
Owen says the developers are sensitive to White's situation but have already offered her a better apartment at her current $400 rent -- less than a third of what it would otherwise cost -- or compensation many times what the law requires.
While he did not specify the amount, David Owen told the demolition committee earlier in May that Mondev has offered White $20,000.
While White has expressed concern that rent could be raised after a year or two in the new apartment, Owen said the building is old enough that annual increases are limited to what the rental board allows, the same as where she lives now.
“We’re offering her alternative housing, a comparative option -- better actually -- and it’s being treated like nothing," he said. "What are we supposed to do? Move everybody into penthouses?”
He notes that the buildings in question are largely abandoned and in very poor shape, and the redevelopment will add housing and help the revitalization of an area that desperately needs it.
David Owen said other apartments had also beensuggested to White, but she has disliked the locations.
"She thinks that she has a lottery ticket and not a lease, and that’s what the problem is," he said.
White's lawyer, Manuel Johnson, said his client isn't being unreasonable, noting that she's willing to accept financial compensation instead of an apartment.
"Without going into details on the amount, we feel that the financial compensation she is asking for is fair and reasonable in the circumstances, taking into account the length of her occupancy (10 years), the amount of her rent, and the possibility of her finding an adequate dwelling in the current super-heated rental market in Montreal."
White and her lawyer have said she refused the apartment that was offered because she wouldn't feel safe there.
Michael Owen said he believes it will now be up to the province's housing tribunal to determine the appropriate compensation at a hearing in June, adding he will abide by that decision.
However, the final decision on whether to allow a demolition and construction permit rests on the city, and not the rental board.
David Owen said he believes his company has met the necessary conditions to be granted a permit, because they have negotiated in good faith and offered White reasonable options for housing.
The borough council is set to hear the appeal of the permit early next month, while the rental tribunal hearing is set for late June.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published May 31, 2023.
Morgan Lowrie, The Canadian Press