Quebec landlords are awaiting details of promised reforms to the rental housing regulator, la Régie du logement. Andrée Laforest, the Minister of Municipal Affairs and Housing, recently confirmed that she will introduce new legislation to replace the previous government’s shelved efforts. In the interim, the 2019-20 budget, released last week, provides more funds to speed up the scheduling of hearings.
“The Quebec government is keen to encourage good relations between owners of housing units and their tenants,” states the inaugural budget from the Coalition avenir Québec government.
A $23.8-million budgetary increase over five years will be channelled to Régie staffing with the goal of shaving nearly three months off the time it typically takes to process an application. The government projects the average wait-time should be reduced to “a little more than two months” by 2022.
More than 69,000 applications — across Quebec’s total base of approximately 1,268,000 households in rental tenure — were made to the Régie last year. Currently, 44 Commissioners oversee hearings and deliver judgements. The Régie’s annual budget was $23.9 million last year so the extra $3.8 million promised for 2019-20 represents an increase of nearly 16 per cent. That rises to $5 million, or a 21 per cent increase from current levels, for the four subsequent years.
Quebec’s largest rental housing association argues that a legislative amendment allowing landlords to charge security deposits could effectively be a streamlining measure because it would provide a palatable alternative to seeking redress through the Régie. A 2015 membership survey found that 58 per cent of respondents would be disinclined to chase after debts of $1,000 to $1,400 if they could simply keep a defaulting tenant’s security deposit and avoid the bureaucracy.
“An enhanced budget for more Régie staff is welcomed, but we’d prefer to have more ingrained reforms,” says Hans Brouillette, director of public affairs for CORPIQ (Corporation des propriétaires immobiliers du Québec). “Introduction of a security deposit would reduce the source of disputes and the volume of hearings.”
While landlords elsewhere in Canada are generally free to ask for the first and last months’ rent and a security deposit as conditions of the lease, Quebec law allows for just one month’s rent to be paid upfront before a tenant can move in. Any attempt to contractually impose a security deposit will render a lease invalid, should the tenant choose to contest it. “The lessee can apply to the tribunal to have his or her rights respected, for example to recover his or her post-dated cheques or deposit,” a fact sheet on the Régie’s website states.
Despite CORPIQ’s long and active political engagement around the issue, the previous government made no moves to alter that policy. The association is now making the case to the new government with renewed vigour. That includes enlisting larger landlords with holdings of at least 100 units to press for change via a newly formed special committee, Cercle Immobilier.
A prerequisite for appealing eviction orders — known as a request for “retraction of judgement” under the Régie — is another measure CORPIQ endorses for reducing the volume of hearings, thus hastening the process for the remaining cases in the system. That would require prospective appellants to pay owed rent into a neutral account before retraction can be considered.
“Without that, it opens the door to those who abuse the system by demanding retractions of judgement in order to delay their eviction from a dwelling for which they do not pay rent,” Brouillette says.
CORPIQ was supportive of many of the previous government’s proposed measures, but critical that the enabling legislation was left to so late in the term of office. The bill had only advanced through first reading when the parliamentary session ended and the 2018 election occurred.
“The Liberal government knew of the grave situation of delays at the Régie du logement when it was elected in April 2014, but did not find a way to deal with it and things have gotten worse,” Brouillette asserts.