They were promised a mansion in the heart of Montreal, but a half dozen tenants of a downtown rooming house have been without power for 10 days and counting, because the electricity bill hasn’t been paid.
The building’s owner blames Roominex, a Montreal short-term rental agency that sublets rooms in the building, saying the agency rented the building from him but hasn’t paid him in more than a year.
None of the tenants would talk to CBC on the record. Some are foreign students, and they fear complaining could threaten their immigration status.
They’ve been living with no electricity since it was cut on May 7.
Not exactly as advertised
The Roominex website describes the property on Côte-des-Neiges Road across from the Montreal General Hospital as “a huge mansion which offers an extremely unique way to live communally and socially.”
From the outside, the building does indeed appear to be a stately two-storey mansion.
One bathroom seems to be used for storage, with dusty junk piled in the sink and on the toilet.
Building doesn’t have proper permit
The tenants say they pay their monthly rent, including first and last month’s rent up front, to Roominex.
On the Roominex website, founder Christian Levasseur bills the company as “a world where smart houses and networking combine to meet a common goal of social sustainability.”
The website, which caters to students and travellers, advertises short-term rentals in more than 15 Montreal buildings.
On the city’s valuation roll, the Côte-des-Neiges property is listed as a single domicile.
According to the city, no permit was ever issued to that address to operate as a rooming house.
Building owner blames Roominex
In documents filed in 2017 with the Régie de Batiment, the provincial agency that regulates building safety codes, the owner of the building, Maan Malouf, alleged that Roominex owed him $16,000 in unpaid rent on the property.
CBC spoke to Malouf briefly by telephone Wednesday.
He said he couldn’t pay the building’s electricity bills because he hadn’t been paid rent in more than a year. He said the matter was before the courts and referred CBC to his lawyer, who did not return calls.
Roominex and Levasseur have been in trouble with the Quebec’s rental housing regulator, the Régie de Logement, before.
Levasseur has a pattern of renting rooms, purportedly to live in himself, and then subletting them without informing landlords.
In 2016, the Régie ordered Levasseur and a business partner to pay $2,000 in damages to a Côte-des-Neiges building owner, after the owner discovered Levasseur was renting out short-term rooms to travellers and students.
In 2015, the Régie ordered Levasseur to vacate another property he was renting and subsequently subletting to multiple people as a short-term rental. The owner only discovered the property was being subletted when he came to fix a leak.
In that case, the Régie ordered Levasseur to pay just over $2,500 in damages.
Expert says fines ‘inconsequential’
“The rules are not strong enough. The fines are inconsequential. It won’t stop others doing the same thing,” Wright said.
Roominex replied to CBC’s interview request in a one-line email statement, which reads: “the matter is with the lawyers so we cannot elaborate,” but that it “strives to ensure all members” enjoy their space.
Meanwhile, Roominex is continuing to operate. Its website shows availability at Asgard House throughout the spring and summer.
“Roominex is guided by the integrity of its founder and marks the ideal organization to bring this cardinal endeavour to the world,” the company’s website says.