MONTREAL -- Tenants in Quebec have until the end of this month to advise their landlord if they don't want to renew their lease, as the majority of them end on July 1. But the City of Montreal is hoping people will stay put. 

“The housing crisis has become an affordability crisis in Montreal," said Montreal executive council member Robert Beaudry, who’s responsible for housing. “So we encourage tenants who don't need to leave their apartments to renew their lease, because it's going to be difficult for them to find affordable housing.”

COVID-19 has had a major effect on Montreal’s vacancy rate: there are twice as many empty apartments now compared to a year ago. Landlords say the pandemic has resulted in fewer people moving in from outside the city, more students are remaining with their parents and fewer job-seekers are entering the work force. But prices were already surpassing the rate of inflation in recent years and the average rent remains high: for example, newly constructed units downtown average between $1,200 and $2,000 a month. In areas where low-income families live, statistics show that family-sized units below $1,000-per-month are increasingly hard to find

“In the South-West district, the vacancy rate for low-income families is at 0.6 per cent," said Beaudry.

Many units in triplexes or quadplexes, traditionally favored by families, have completely disappeared from the market.

To respond to the price-oriented shortage, the city will launch a publicity campaign this month to raise awareness on tenants’ rights in case of unreasonable rent increases, questionable evictions under the guise of renovations, or failure to properly maintain the apartment building.

Last week, the City of Montreal, along with mayors from Quebec City and Gatineau, urged the Quebec government to speed up investments in social housing. These are apartments built specifically for low-income tenants, where rent is subsidized.

But landlords also question the city’s strategy, as they’re once again portrayed as part of the problem, rather than the solution. The association that represents their interests, the CORPIQ, argues that with a 3.2 percent vacancy rate, there is no shortage of apartments. The landlords agrees the prices are higher but argue the free market should be allowed to play out, especially on pricier units

“We can expect that we will see these apartments, their rents will be lowered, or like we've seen, a few months of free rents, so it's a market and with more apartments available it gives more choices” said CORPIQ spokesperson Hans Brouilette