Father of Old Montreal fire victim launches $22M lawsuit
A father of one of the seven victims of the deadly Old Montreal fire is suing Airbnb and the owner of the building that burned down for $22 million.
A class-action request was filed Friday in Superior Court in Montreal by Randy Sears, whose 35-year-old son, Nathan Sears, perished in the March 16 fire. The request has not yet been authorized by a judge.
The application names the building's owner, Montreal-based lawyer Emile Benamor, and Airbnb as defendants. Another defendant listed is Tariq Hasan, who operated "illegal short-term rentals" in the building, according to the lawsuit.
Sears, who resides in New Brunswick, described his son in the lawsuit as a "husband, son, and brother" who was renting an Airbnb unit in the building that went up in flames. The Toronto-based academic, who held a PhD in political science, was visiting the city to attend the International Studies Association conference.
The lawsuit draws on media reports in the days after the fire that quoted survivors and former renters who had raised several concerns about the safety of the building, including claims that at least one unit had no windows and a single exit.
The application alleges the defendants' behaviour "demonstrated that they were more concerned with generating income for themselves than about ensuring the safety and health" of the people who lived in the building, and that the defendants' violations "were grossly negligent and dangerous."
None of the allegations have been proven in court.
Sears is suing the defendants for punitive damages "for the unlawful interference with the Class members' rights to personal security and dignity" under the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, according to the lawsuit.
Among the seven victims of a deadly fire in Old Montreal on March 16, 2023, are a neuroscientist, a renowned photographer and two teenagers from the Greater Montreal Area. (CTV News)
The application requests the damages be shared among the people who lived in the building at the time of the fire, as well as their estates and family members.
The document alleges Benamor "failed and neglected to ensure that the building and the rental units met municipal property standards, zoning bylaws, fire safety regulations and local buildings codes."
It also points the finger at Hasan, who allegedly failed to ensure "the rental units he listed on Airbnb" complied with safety standards.
In a lengthy interview with CTV News on March 23, Benamor's lawyer, Alexandre Bergevin, acknowledged that Hasan was renting units to people, but said his client was trying to shut him down. He said two notices were sent to Hasan in August of last year but the listings stayed up.
One former tenant of the building told CTV News that Benamor allowed the operation to continue.
"No, no, that's completely false. I didn't see any evidence. I see only evidence against the assertion," Bergevin said at the time.
Bergevin did not respond to a request for comment on Friday.
Hasan's lawyer, Alexandre Romano, declined to comment.
Airbnb reiterated a previous statement sent to CTV about the fire: "Our hearts go out to the victims of this tragedy, and to their families and loved ones. We are providing our support to those affected, and we are assisting law enforcement as they investigate."
Airbnb permitted unauthorized listings on its platform, according to the lawsuit, which also alleged the multinational company failed to require its hosts obtained the necessary housing permit from the province.
Since the fatal fire, Airbnb announced stricter rules for its hosts in Quebec, including the requirement that they prominently show a permit number provided by the Quebec government on the online listing.
However, some Airbnb hosts already appear to be skirting the new rules, with several listings in the Montreal area simply using "123456" as the permit number.
The Montreal police arson squad is leading the investigation into the deadly fire. The investigation is ongoing and no charges have been laid.
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