Parc-Extension residents in Montreal rallied Sunday in solidarity with tenants facing rent increases and alleged harassment.
A group of five tenants living in an apartment complex on Bloomfield are claiming their landlord Elankkovan Ponnambalam has been verbally abusive and illegally hiking up rent.
“He’s threatening and harassing everybody. (He says) ‘you have to agree with me or else you will be kicked out of the building,'” said tenant Abdul Waheed Ahmed.
Out of 14 tenants, five of them have refused to accept Ponnambalam’s new proposed lease.
The landlord purchased the building back in July. He has since taken over renovations to the exterior of the complex, the city mandated the previous owner to replace the brick for safety reasons.
“The landlord is proposing an increase of more than $100,” said Comité d’action Parc-Extension community organizer Amy Darwish. “Their current rent is over $570 and he wants to increase that to $700.”
“He wants to change the conditions of their lease. Namely that they would no longer pay heat or electricity, which would increase their rent by a further $100 a month.”
Darwish claims this isn’t legal. A landlord can increase rent only during the renewal period, which is no less than three months before the end of their lease, according to the Quebec Rental Board.
“They cannot change the conditions outside of that period too,” said Darwish. “And generally when they change the heating system or they force tenants to start paying for heating, they usually have to do a rent reduction as well, which has not been done in this situation.”
Ponnambalam, however, claims he has the right to increase rent and impose a new lease.
“I am following everything from the calculation from the Regie du logement,” he said.
According to the Quebec Rental Board’s website, a lessee can object the modification of a new lease when proposed outside of the renewal period.
“He said that he knows some gangster, drug dealers and that he will call them and make the tenants to be kicked out,” said Ahmed.
Some tenants, however, are happy with the renovations Ponnambalam has done since purchasing the complex.
Mudiappu Alphonsusalwil, who has been living at the apartment for over nine years, said since Ponnambalam took over as landlord, his bathroom was renovated and walls were painted.
Alphonsusalwil claimed to have seen exterminators come to the building a few times already to fix the complex’s pest problem that Ponnambalam inherited from the previous owner.
The five tenants, however, complain they’re still living in poor conditions.
Ponnambalam said he didn’t hire an inspector to inspect the apartment building before purchasing it. He said he wasn’t aware of the cockroach and rat infestation.
“As soon as we bought the building it was all rectified right away,” said his daughter, Maathu Ponnambalam.
The five tenants claim their landlord has been verbally abusive towards them and others living in the building.
“He called me very bad names, very, very bad names,” said tenant Smro Tzanetoulakos.
Ponnambalam said his comments were out of self-defence.
“I’m doing all the work and they yell, ‘hey, when are you gonna do my thing!’ screaming at me, so I get mad, I am a human,” he said. “I can use one or two words that is normal.”
The group of tenants plans on taking their landlord to court.
Ponnambalam said he is ready to go to court over the dispute as well.
“I’m ready, I have a lawyer,” he said.
“It’s a situation we see all too often in the neighbourhood,” said Darwish. “As gentrification ramps up, a lot of landlords are resorting to harassment, intimidation and pressure tactics, especially towards immigrants and low-income tenants.”