Montreal apartment dweller Carla White has shot to unlikely public prominence by refusing offers to move from a building that its owner seeks to demolish to build an apartment tower.
Real estate developer Mondev and its architectural firm ACDF spent many months advancing through a grueling permit process required to build a downtown Montreal residential tower at the southwest corner of St. Catherine and St. Hubert streets. Now that Mondev has finally received municipal approval, the project is being stalled as White refuses Mondev’s offers to move out from the dilapidated 260-square-foot apartment unit with $400 monthly rent.
The situation is unusual in Montreal, where the provincial Administrative Housing Tribunal regulates landlord-tenant conflicts and has the legal power to order evictions. However the case does not appear to fall within any of the standard categories usually handled by the tribunal, which issues binding legal decisions on disputes such as non-payment and rent increase issues.
Mondev’s residential project at the corner of St. Hubert and St. Catherine streets is expected to contain 176 apartments when completed, however the city of Montreal has made its permissions conditional on the company coming to an agreement with all tenants to leave.
White has declined Mondev’s offer of an apartment in another of its Montreal residential properties for the same $400 rent. She has also refused a $20,000 settlement. The standoff has led the project to come to a halt, as the two sides remain unable to come to an agreement.
It has also sparked considerable chatter, as the story has received local media attention as well as from as far as the United Kingdom, where The Guardian has reported on the standoff.
Some posts on social media have applauded White’s stance, while others have noted that she is blocking new housing units during a time when the city is in a serious housing crisis, as residential units have been in very short supply. Others have blamed the City of Montreal for making the demolition permit dependent on the negotiated settlement.
Mondev tells CoStar News that it is now done negotiating with White and is awaiting a date the tribunal’s provincial rental board to settle the case.
“We are very sensitive to her situation and her requirements,” Mondev co-founder David Owen told CoStar News. “We also understand the need for housing. In fact the purpose of our project is to create housing.”
Owen said Mondev has offered White a unit with the same rent guaranteed for life but that she didn’t even reply. “She wants a penthouse apartment with a terrace,” Owen said.
White’s lawyer Manuel Johnson tells CoStar News that Mondev’s offer of $20,000 is too low. “It isn’t sufficient to give her housing stability for more than a year or two in Montreal’s super-heated rental market. The developers will be making millions of dollars in profits off of this project. Miss White is in no way putting in danger the viability of this project. It will represent less than one percent of their profit margin on the project.”
Johnson acknowledges that the standoff is veering toward a legal no-man’s land, as he suspects that the rental board tribunal is not legally competent to settle the standoff when it addresses the issue on June 29.
He also acknowledges that the municipal authorities could intervene and undermine White’s position, and take the developer’s word if it says it did everything it could.
The section of buildings slated to be demolished also include a number of onetime commercial units, one of which housed the iconic Da Gionnavi restaurant, a longtime spaghetti-serving local landmark.
The site is located across from an entrance to the Berri metro station, a major transportation hub. It also sits across from the busy Émilie Gamelin Plaza.
Mondev has been one of the busier Montreal developers in recent times. The firm is also at work building a project at Papineau and St. Catherine streets as well as another on Notre Dame St. in Old Montreal. Mondev eventually plans to build a similar residential building across St. Hubert St., opposite the one it is currently trying to build.
The developer-tenant standoff is not unprecedented in Montreal. In the late 1980s Montreal Mayor Jean Doré averted a similar pre-demolition negotiation between developers and tenants by sending inspectors into the apartments, who deemed the units unsafe for residents.
Some councillors from Doré’s Montreal Citizen Movement party resigned in protest. The Overdale project was never built and the land sat empty for decades until recent years when real estate developer Brivia built on the site.