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Rental units difficult to inspect and maintain
Article mis en ligne le jeudi 5 avril 2012

Five months after presenting an urgent call to action regarding safety and sanitary conditions in borough rental units, community groups have not noticed an increase in the number of housing inspections or better follow-up on existing complaints.

Their detailed report, Agir ensemble: pour un parc de logements locatifs en santé dans les quartiers Côte-des-Neiges et Notre-Dame-de-Grâce (Acting together: for healthy rental units in CDN and NDG neighbourhoods), was presented at the Feb. 21 council meeting. The document calls for increased enforcement of the existing bylaw on sanitation and maintenance of dwelling units.

This January the borough announced two new clauses for indoor hygiene regulations, with increased fines for infractions. As of Feb. 22, if repairs required by the permits and inspections division have not been executed within the prescribed delay, owners or tenants, depending on the case, are billed $125 for any subsequent inspection and $125 for the issuance of any subsequent notice.

The changes were expected to encourage landlord compliance with sanitation rules.

Yet Nathalie Rech of Project Genesis, one of the groups who worked on the Agir ensemble report, feels that raising fines or increasing the number of inspections is not necessarily the answer to a complex problem.

“The borough didn’t commit to any change on how the inspectors work,” she says.

Even with higher fines “there is no incentive for the landlord to act quickly and now we have a big backlog.”

Furthermore, after a mould complaint, landlords can “just paint over the mould - the inspector comes and thinks there’s no problem.”

There may also be a lot of “psychological issues the borough doesn’t consider,” says Rech, such as a fear of the consequences of lodging a complaint, from intimidation to being kicked out of their homes.

“When we do daily work with immigrants it is very difficult to get people to the stage where they make a complaint or go to the rental board,” especially if their citizenship status is pending, or they may be from countries lacking the same amount of protection and are unaware of their rights.

She notes that it would also be useful for inspectors to proactively investigate other units in a building where only one tenant has made a complaint, since the problems would exist throughout the building, but the city did not seem “open” to the idea.

“I understand that inspection is not an easy job,” she admits. “It’s a complex issue with a lot of difficult situations. We have a very interesting bylaw here, but we don’t have the means to make sure it is respected.”

Loyola district councillor Susan Clarke says that the borough is “dealing with a couple of the recommendations at each council meeting, so we’re getting through them. Right now the housing committee is dealing with individual cases.”

[ Ingrid Wissink ]

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