200 Montreal tenants have pledged to go on a rent strike this fall. Why more may join them

Ariane Lalonde pays more than $1,200 a month for a studio apartment she’s converted to a two bedroom in Montreal — and she’s had enough.

“We’re all paying way too much,” said Lalonde, who feels that she should be paying at most $800 or $900 for the space she’s renting.

“My generation, we won’t be able to have a house,” she said. “I never thought I would not be able to when I was young. I took that for granted. It’s insane.”

Lalonde, who grew up in Gatineau and always dreamed of living in Montreal, feels caught between a rock and a hard place.

“The work is here, but not the possibility, the capacity to live here.”

A rent strike poster on a window.
A poster encourages Montreal tenants to pledge to join other renters in a rent strike this fall to protest Quebec’s proposed Bill 31 and skyrocketing rents. The Montreal Autonomous Tenants’ Union (MATU) is collecting the pledges, and says it will call a strike if it gets 5,000 or more. (Aloysius Wong/CBC)

Lalonde is far from alone. She and about 200 other tenants have now pledged to participate in a rent strike this fall to protest rent increases and Bill 31, which would allow landlords to unilaterally block lease transfers. The pledges are being collected by the Montreal Autonomous Tenants’ Union (MATU), which says it will call the rent strike if 5,000 or more people participate.

The rent strike would involve tenants withholding rental payments until their demands are met. According to one of the organizers, those demands could include a rent freeze or cap and amendments to Bill 31 to exclude a provision that would make lease transfers more difficult. The final strategy will depend on their momentum and the priorities agreed upon in strike assemblies.

“We see people who for the first time are struggling to choose between rent and groceries,” MATU organizer Sarah Toews said in an interview on CBC’s Let’s Go.

A woman stands behind a table in a park.
MATU organizer Sarah Toews collects pledges from fellow Montreal tenants for a rent strike this fall. (Submitted by Sarah Toews)

Toews, who considers the rent strike an “emergency response,” says their organization has already seen cases where landlords have refused legal lease transfers or illegally evicted longtime, elderly tenants from their homes.

“So we can only imagine how easy it will be for rent to skyrocket if this bill is passed.”

LISTEN | Tenants’ association organizer explains why they’re planning a rent strike:

Let’s Go11:36Rent Strike Pledge

It’s getting harder and harder for people to make ends meet, And housing is often at the top of the expense list. Renters are feeling the pinch. There’s little relief outside the home too, with food and gas prices remaining high, and inflation rising again last month to 3.3% . All this has led to one tenants’ union to start organizing a rent strike this fall. The Montreal Autonomous Tenants’ Union is collecting pledges from tenants to withhold their rent. To protest Bill 31 and skyrocketing rents. Sarah Toews is organizer with the union and its rent strike committee.

Skyrocketing rents

Rent in Montreal is among the fastest growing in Canada.

According to an August 2023 report by Rentals.ca, apartment and condo listings in Montreal saw a year-over-year increase of 15.3 per cent — a growth outpaced only by Brampton, Ont., (18.6 per cent) and Calgary, Alta., (16.1 per cent). Average listed rents in Montreal are now $1,987, ranging from $1,464 for a bachelor (or studio) apartment to $2,539 for a three-bedroom apartment.

These numbers are almost double the overall average rents in Montreal reported by the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation in 2022. Rents have also outpaced inflation: a $484-two-bedroom apartment in 1993 would cost $894 in today’s dollars, below the current costs of new and existing leases for a similar unit.

To keep rents affordable, many Quebec tenants have depended on apartment swaps and lease transfers.

“May,” a Montreal tenant of over 10 years whom CBC News is not identifying because she fears retaliation from her landlord as a sex worker with precarious employment, says she has primarily relied on lease transfers to secure housing because of her line of work.

May says she has auditory-processing issues which make it difficult for her to work in French. “So it’s difficult to find legitimate work.”

“You can’t really tell a landlord that you don’t have a pay stub because you’re self-employed, because you spend sensual time with men for your financial well-being.”

WATCH | How Bill 31 could end lease transfers in Quebec:

Why lease transfers could go extinct in Quebec

A new housing bill tabled by Quebec’s CAQ government makes some changes that tenants have been asking for, but it also gives landlords more power over lease transfers.

May believes that Bill 31 would lead to a “massive influx” of homelessness in Montreal and across Quebec.

“I’m in a relatively good position, and I could end up homeless because of this — like in the next year or two,” she said. “There are a lot of people in more precarious positions than I am. So yeah, f–k law 31.”

Rent strikes ‘not the solution’: landlord association

While Martin Messier, the president of the Quebec Landlords Association, expressed sympathy for the financial burdens tenants face amid high inflation and interest rates, he warns that a rent strike could cause a “ripple effect” that harms all parties.

“It would be the equivalent for landlords to stop paying mortgages,” Messier told Let’s Go, stressing that he’s heard from many landlords who are struggling because of the high interest rates and the rising costs of maintenance and repairs.

“In most situations, the landlords don’t have a choice,” said Messier, who has previously called Bill 31 “a bit of a nightmare for landlords” because it would require them to demonstrate “good faith” when evicting tenants.

“They have to file [for non-payment of rent and eviction] to try to get the rent so that they’re able to pay their mortgages, taxes and every other obligation.”

He says that a rent strike is “not an adequate solution,” and instead, suggests open discussions between landlords and tenants instead to resolve disputes.

WATCH | Your rights as a Quebec tenant:

What are my rights as a renter in Quebec?

We cut through the legalese to bring you answers to questions you may not even know you should be asking. Can my landlord kick me out for renovations? Does my landlord have to show me the previous tenant’s rent? Are rent decreases possible? While Quebec has rules for protecting renters, tenants have to be pretty savvy to wade through misinformation, bureaucracy and language barriers when learning about the law.

But the organizers from MATU remain optimistic. They say that rent strikes are their most powerful tool as tenants, pointing to both recent rent strikes in Toronto as well as a successful three-month strike in 2017 as evidence that rent strikes can work in their favour.

“We are drawing on historical victories as a result of rent strikes and we believe that we can get significant wins through bold action like this,” said Toews.


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