MONTREAL -- In the midst of what some are calling a housing crisis, several hundred people gathered in Montreal's Square Saint-Louis on Saturday to demand that the Quebec government institute mandatory rent control to guarantee access to housing for all.

The demonstration, organized by the Regroupement des comités logement et associations de locataires du Québec (RCLALQ), headed up Sherbrooke St. towards Premier Legault's Montreal office.

"It is time that housing is stopped being considered as merchandise," said RCLALQ spokesperson Maxime Roy-Allard. "It is time that housing is considered as a fundamental right."

Some Quebec politicians also took part in the demonstration to show their support for the right to housing.

"The government is particularly passive, (and) it sticks to the usual solutions," said Quebec Solidaire (QS) housing spokesperson Andres Fontecilla before the demonstration. "It does not dare to solve the problems at the root, for example with a rent registry and a moratorium on evictions."

The demonstration happened, as a new study from the province's landlords association shows vacancies doubled in the same period.

Right now, 10 per cent of places in Montreal are either empty or have tenants that are leaving July 1 and no one is moving in. 

According to several of Saturday's demonstrators, the COVID-19 pandemic has had a devastating effect on the already existing housing shortage.

"The pandemic has really created a real estate frenzy that has driven up the price of buildings, which is also driving up the price of rents," said Roy-Allard.

The renovictions issue should also be a priority for the Legault government, according to New Democratic Party MP Alexandre Boulerice.

"We're seeing a lot of people losing their homes to disguised evictions," said Boulerice. "I think the Quebec government has a lot of work to do on this."

In May, Minister of Housing Andree Laforest said in a parliamentary committee that "we are not at all in a housing crisis", a statement later echoed by Francois Legault.

"They don't even want to recognize that there is a housing crisis," said Steve Baird of the Verdun Citizens Action Committee. "They have demonstrated very clearly that they don't care."

A victim of a nine-month-old "renoviction" attempt in the Villeray neighbourhood, Margret -- who would not share her last name -- was incredulous at how little recourse she had against her landlord.

After allegedly attempting to evict her illegally, he reportedly declared her house "uninhabitable" and has been renovating it ever since to convince her to move out, which has had a significant impact on her physical and mental health.

She has been to the housing authority (Tribunal administratif du logement) three times since then to have her case heard, a particularly arduous process.

"It has affected me a lot," she said. "I haven't slept in months. I had to give my pet away because he couldn't live in these conditions."

In addition to calling for the creation of a public rent registry and a moratorium on evictions, the RCLALQ spokesperson is proposing the introduction of maximum rent increase rates, based on the Ontario model. Landlords wishing to exceed this threshold must then apply to the tribunal to justify the increase.

"Currently, that burden is reversed," said Roy-Allard. "If tenants don't challenge the increase, there is no control. Tenants are afraid to challenge because they are afraid of retaliation and don't necessarily know their rights."

The demonstration was peaceful and in cooperation with the Montreal police. It ended around 3 p.m. 

-- this report by The Canadian Press was first published in French on June 19, 2021. 

-- with reporting from CTV News Montreal.