Quebec adopts bill restricting lease transfers, often used to limit rent increases

QUEBEC — The Quebec government adopted a controversial housing bill Wednesday that will restrict a popular tool tenants have used for years to limit rent increases.

The new law will allow landlords to reject lease transfers for any reason. Previously they had to show they had serious concerns about the new tenant, such as their ability to pay or problematic behaviour.

The transfer of leases allowed new tenants to benefit from the existing rent and prevented landlords from jacking up the price, but Housing Minister France-Élaine Duranceau has said lease transfers aren't the right tool to control rents in the province.

Community groups had fought against the lease transfer change, and opposition parties proposed amendments to the bill, but Duranceau stood firm on the provision.

The Regroupement des comités logement et associations de locataires du Québec, a group representing housing groups and tenants associations from across the province, said in a statement it was a "shameful day" for the province. It said the law is a "clear setback for tenants' rights" and does nothing to respond to the housing crisis in the province.

“The great imbalance between the power of landlords and the rights of tenants is growing day by day," said Cédric Dussault, spokesperson for the group. "Instead of protecting people who are suffering, we have a government that further suffocates them by strengthening the powers of those who benefit."

Dussault said the crux of the housing crisis has to do with a lack of rent control. While the new law strengthens clauses requiring transparency from owners against abusive rent hikes, Dussault said it doesn't go far enough because most tenants have no way of knowing if information provided by the landlord about previous rents is accurate.

During the study of the bill, Québec solidaire proposed amendments that would protect seniors from evictions, but those were rejected by the government members.

Duranceau has defended the law, saying it includes several provisions to protect renters. For example, the burden of proof for evictions is shifted to landlords instead of requiring tenants to prove they did nothing wrong. The law will require landlords to pay evicted tenants the equivalent of one month's rent for every year they have lived in the dwelling.

Also, a renter who doesn't respond to an eviction notice won't automatically be believed to have accepted it, as is currently the case.

Liberal housing critic Virginie Dufour said in a statement the law missed an opportunity to address the province's housing crisis. She highlighted provisions granted to municipalities that she said could lead to abuses.

The law will allow municipalities with more than 10,000 people and a vacancy rate of less than three per cent to bypass urban planning rules for buildings with at least three units. Municipalities can also deviate from their rules for projects that are mainly composed of subsidized or affordable housing.

The adoption process took eight months. Last October, the committee looking at the bill was suspended so several articles could be rewritten, drawing criticism from opposition parties that Duranceau, a rookie cabinet minister, was disorganized.

Duranceau said a few days after the delay that if the law was not adopted by the end of 2023 the opposition parties would carry the "burden" of the harm done to vulnerable tenants, leading opposition members to walkout on the committee, calling the minister's move arrogant and amounting to blackmail.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Feb. 21, 2024.

The Canadian Press