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Montreal-based group creates website to help protect tenants from illegal rent hikes

A Montreal group claims to have found a way to help slow the rapid rate of rent increases in the city. AP Photo/Lynne Sladky, File

Tenants’ rights groups have long been warning about skyrocketing residential rent increases in the Montreal area.

Now members of La Base, a not-for-profit group, say they have found a way to help stop it.

“It’s a publicly accessible and free website where people can publish their rent information for other users,” explained the group’s spokesperson, Adam Mongrain.

Without identifying themselves, renters anywhere in the province use the website to record their rent.

Read more: The housing crisis in Montreal and how the pandemic keeps compounding things

New tenants can determine if the rent the property owner is asking for is reasonable.

“The lowest price paid for a unit over the past 12 months is the peg at which legal rent increases can apply,” Mongrain pointed out.

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Some tenants’ rights advocates applaud the move.

“It’s a very interesting tenants’ initiative responding to a very present need,” said Darby MacDonald of Project Genesis, a community group that helps renters. “It’s also the government not doing its part.”

According to MacDonald, the government should be providing the service.

Read more: Advocates demand more social housing in Montreal

She pointed out that property owners are required to declare, in a special box on the lease, the lowest rent paid over the last 12-month period.

“A lot of landlords, pretty systematically,” MacDonald told Global News, “don’t fill out the box or put an incorrect amount to give the impression that they are giving a good deal to the tenant.”

In her view, this is one factor leading to exorbitant rent hikes.

In a recent study by the Montreal Metropolitan Community, rents in the city of Montreal increased by an average of 4.6 per cent in 2020, the highest increase since 2003.

Other people working with tenants are not sold on the concept.

Although a rent registry might be a good idea in theory, “I don’t think that it’s a great idea,” tenants’ rights lawyer Jamie Benizri said from his Saint-Laurent office.

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“I think it’s going to lead to more confusion.”

He pointed out that the law already requires property owners to indicate the lowest-paid rent over one year, and if they don’t, there can be consequences.

“That’s why the tribunal is here, to rectify certain behaviours that are in bad faith, that are deceiving,” he said.

He admitted that many tenants don’t know their rights or how to navigate the legal system.

One thing advocates agree on is that more needs to be done to help educate tenants about their rights.

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