Montreal

Mont-Carmel residence seniors score 'partial victory' against landlord who wanted to evict them

The seniors who formed Sauvons le Mont-Carmel say Quebec’s laws need to be changed to protect seniors in RPAs.

'Everything we've got, we've struggled for,' says RPA resident

A woman sits at her kitchen table.
Constance Vaudrin says more needs to be done to protect seniors living in private seniors' residences. (Mélissa François/CBC)

After two years of fighting their landlord, seniors at a private seniors' residence in downtown Montreal have won the right to stay in their homes, and the 16-storey building will not be converted into residential apartments.

Constance Vaudrin, 85, one of the building's senior residents, received a letter from Henry Zavriyev, their landlord — who purchased Résidence Mont-Carmel in 2021 for $40 million  — saying that the planned evictions of the seniors and the RPA's conversion into a residential building were both being cancelled.

"Everything we've got, we've struggled for it," said Vaudrin, who received her eviction notice in January 2022. 

"Nothing has been given. There's no gift there at all."

The seniors had low-income adjusted rents, on-site nursing services and common areas for activities, but under the new ownership, some residents left fearing possibly losing their services and homes, while others signed new, non-RPA leases with higher rent, she says.

Zavriyev is an investor who has a history of buying apartment buildings, kicking tenants out and renovating the units to rent them at a higher price.

In January, the Quebec Association of Retirees from the Public and Parapublic Sectors (AQRP) released a report that found that more than  2,500 seniors were forced  to find a new place to live between 2022 and 2023.

That report also found that 88 private seniors' residences closed their doors between Oct. 1, 2022 and Sept. 1, 2023.

The Mont-Carmel building in downtown Montreal has 216 apartments.

It has 63 RPA units, according to information published in Ministry of Health's RPA registry on Feb. 6. According to Sauvons le Mont-Carmel, that number has gone down to 47. 

A seniors' home in a large apartment complex.
Résidence Mont-Carmel on René-Lévesque Boulevard East in downtown Montreal was one of eight private seniors' residences that were stripped of their status and sold or forced to shutter in the city in 2021, according to a local housing group. (CBC News)

Unfinished business 

Zavriyev says he has no intention to sell the building and describes the outcome as a win for everyone.

"We're withdrawing our request for conversion and that we're going to continue offering the services to the existing residents that are still there," he told CBC News.

"This is definitely a victory for the residents and for the building, and I think for the greater situation of the property," he said.

The decision to reverse course came down to a "personal decision," he said.  "This is not something that has been forced on us legally." 

But despite the concessions, Vaudrin calls the reversal only a "partial" victory.

The seniors are still looking to secure more guarantees from their landlord about their services, including beefing up security so that there is greater control of who is allowed to enter the building. 

"We're working for a change in legislation," said Vaudrin.

According to the news release, the committee of senior residents is calling for amending parts of the Quebec Civil Code to prevent the conversion of RPAs into residential buildings, facilitating public takeovers of RPAs at risk of closing their doors and introducing obligations related to RPA certifications to maintain services and rent costs. 

"We're changing things. We can feel we're going forward in this. So I cannot leave that. I wouldn't dream of it."

A man looks into a camera.
Real estate investor Henry Zavriev bought the building in 2021 for $40 million. He says he has no intention of selling it. (Radio-Canada)

Stopping RPAs from shuttering

Pierre Lynch, the president of the Association québécoise de défense des droits des personnes préretraitées et retraitées, says the Mont-Carmel outcome is good news.

But he says that the government needs to put in place an official process for owners of buildings with RPA status who want to convert the building — and then accept or reject that request. 

Lynch also says more needs to be done to prevent RPAs from shuttering, pointing to lack of staff, funding, and in some cases too much regulation. 

"A lot of RPAs are closing or have closed in the last five years," he said, putting that number in the hundreds. 

Owners, especially in Quebec's larger cities, are buying up RPAs, turning them into condos and jacking the rent, he says.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Joe Bongiorno

Journalist

Joe Bongiorno is a journalist, author and former high school teacher. He has reported for CBC, Canadian Geographic, Maisonneuve, Canada’s National Observer and others. He is currently a reporter with The Canadian Press.

With files from Mélissa François and Radio-Canada