People are doing what they can to cope as they wait for answers following a deadly fire in Old Montreal last Thursday in which two people were killed and several others presumed dead.
The 19th century building housed a number of short-term rental units, illegal in that part of the city since 2018.
“Short-term rental operators, like the one involved in the fire, have learned that they can break the rules and nobody is going to check up on them,” David Wachsmuth, Canada Research Chair in Urban Governance and associate professor at McGill University’s School of Urban Planning, explained.
Oversight of these establishments like Airbnb has long been a problem, even though, according to Wachsmuth, there are strong provincial rules governing them.
“There’s a good division of labour between the province, which is supposed to register all the Airbnbs, and then the city, which sets the rules about where they’re allowed to operate and how,” he told Global News.
The problem, he and others say, is enforcement.
The website of the Corporation de l’industrie touristique du Québec (CITQ), the provincial body responsible for issuing permits, explains that before anyone can apply for a provincial permit to operate a short-term rental establishment they must first meet municipal standards regarding permits, emergency plans, etc.
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According to a friend of one of the missing people from Thursday’s fire, some rooms had no windows or emergency escapes.
“As a landlord of a building you have a general obligation for the safety of the occupants,” CEGEP Sorel-Tracy Legal affairs teacher, Antoine Morneau-Sénéchal, pointed out.
On Monday, Quebec’s tourism minister Caroline Proulx told reporters in Old Montreal that the province’s powers of enforcement are limited to checking on only those places with a permit and that the city has to police buildings without.
However, Montreal Mayor Valerie Plante claims that’s complex because, even though a listing is visible on a site like Airbnb, there’s no address.
Wachsmuth believes more resources should be out into enforcement, but the main one solution is to get platforms like Aribnb to do more.
“If you don’t have a CITQ permit, like a permit from the minister of tourism advertised on your Airbnb listing, it’s illegal,” he told Global News.
“It would be the easiest thing for them to see which are the listings that have these permits and which are the ones that don’t, and take off all the ones that don’t have a permit number.”
He said the province should fine the platforms heavily if they don’t comply.
The province said it is now looking into beefing up enforcement, including forcing short-term listing platforms to remove listings that don’t display a permit number.
In a statement, Airbnb wrote, “Our hearts go out to the victims of this tragedy, and to their families and loved ones. We are providing our support to those affected, and we are assisting law enforcement as they investigate. We are also engaged with the mayor’s office.”