Montreal Housing 101

by christian scott (@urbanosapiens) 

Welcome to a new city, a place that can potentially become ‘home’ for you. Despite rising costs in housing in recent years, the lowest vacancy rates in decades, and an 18% increase in real estate prices in a single year, Montreal still remains a relatively affordable and great place to live—when compared to other major North American cities. Let’s all do our part to keep it that way. 

This brief piece will offer tips on how to find housing, what your basic rights as a tenant are, how to avoid common landlord scams, who to reach out for support, and lastly, an invitation to think critically about housing. 

How and Where to find housing? 

The Montreal numerical system of units and half-units is a way to refer to the number of rooms and bathrooms an apartment or house will have. 

1 ½ = small studio with one bathroom, probably no walls. 

3 ½ = three rooms: bedroom, living room, kitchen. The half, that means bathroom! 4 ½ = two closed bedrooms, plus the rest. And so on… 

Despite this numerical system, beware and always ask for pictures and visit a place, some landlords are math-wizards that will count one big bedroom as two, and so on. In other words, no fixed rules but the numbers give you a general idea. Happy hunting. 

The days in which you could walk down a street and find several For Rent signs, and entertain non-rushed conversations with potential landlords are over. You could still try this good old analog technique, but these days most people offer and search for housing online. Try: 

—Kijiji, Craigslist, and PadMapper. 

—Facebook Groups. Ask your queer friends to invite you to the secret/private queer housing groups. 

—Student-oriented housing websites like: Places4Students. 

—Ask your friends, put the word out. 

Pro Tip: When and if moving in with friends and roommates, always have conversations before moving to check-in what your needs and expectations are.

Schedules, routines, communication styles, romantic status and practices, needs around quiet/noise, presence of others and hosting parties, etc etc. Boundary setting and honest communication is a great skill, and this is a situation in which to put these into practice. 

Navigating your Housing Rights and Lease 

Signing a lease makes you the tenant of the place and establishes a legal relationship between you and the landlord. In short, you are obliged to take care of the place, be a good neighbor to others, and pay rent on time. The landlord must provide a liveable space, must notify you in advance of any visits, and be responsible for repairs. 

If ever there’s an issue that can not be solved between you two, any of the parties can file a complaint/application with the Tribunal administratif du logement (TAL), Quebec’s Housing governing body. Applications can be opened online, documents must be prepared, and hearing/court dates will be established. It might sound daunting, but it’s generally doable and their processes clear. 

The golden rules are: Always communicate in writing with your landlord (for proof, store the emails and letters), and always send important notices/rejections via registered mail (for proof, keep the receipts). When opening a complaint/application, you can request that these costs be covered by your landlord if the court rules in your favour. 

Leases have a line that indicates the past years’ rent, if this line is empty, or the amount is false you have 10 days to file a complaint with the TAL. If possible, establish a line of communication with old tenants or neighbors that might know these things. This is a very common practice that landlords use to hike-up rents from lease-to-lease. 

Every year you will receive a ‘rent increase notice,’ if this amount goes above the established legal percentage that the TAL publishes each year, you must inform your landlord of your rejection of the proposed rent increase. You can either negotiate a new amount directly, or request the TAL to establish it. For this to take place, you must open a complaint/application with the TAL. This is perhaps the most common strategy landlords use to increase their rent, do not be scared to contest it, chances are you will win. Send an official registered-mail letter rejecting the notice (the TAL website specifies what information to include in the letter), and archive and document everything.

On Lease Transfers: A lease transfer will have to respect the same rent amount established in the original lease. If a landlord rejects the application of lease transfer, or if they want to accept it but conditional on a rent increase—well, you know what you must do: open a complaint/application with the TAL. The only grounds to reject a lease transfer are if the landlord suspects the new tenant doesn’t have the financial means to pay rent, or if they suspect they can be a threat to their property or other neighbours. 

On Subletting: Another way to ‘pass along’ an apartment and protect the rent from increasing is to sublet your place to someone else. Oftentimes this happens informally without informing the landlord, or by informing them/requesting their consent informally. However, the TAL requests that this is done formally via a ‘notice of subletting’ that must be sent to the landlord—they have 15 days to reject it. Once again, if their rejection is not based on serious grounds, you can contest it by opening a complaint/application with the TAL. Remember: when subletting, you are still the responsible and legally-liable party on the lease. 

On Renovictions: Evictions by renovation (aka, ‘major work’) are becoming more common in Montreal. The landlord has the right to renovate their units, and the obligation of informing you within a particular timeline (10 days or more, depending on the extent of renovations) and with information on what the major work will entail, expected duration, etc. The landlord must compensate the tenant to cover moving costs, costs of renting another space, storage space, etc. Beware, at the end of your year’s lease, the renovations will be a factor to consider in a rent increase. 

Other common issues are landlords not making repairs properly and/or in time, entering the unit without advanced notice, or being bullies/harassers. You have rights and can open complaints/applications with the TAL for these and other matters. If ever you feel your safety is threatened, reach out to neighbors and friends, community safety groups, or other formal institutions of protection. 

Remember: you are not alone. Many groups can offer free advice and support. Chances are, if you already navigate university bureaucracy, you can do this. I’ve done it, and won. The TAL is historically known to be ‘fair’ (whatever that means today) and to protect tenants rights. 

Housing Support Orgs and Legal Clinics.

If ever in the need to consult with experts how to best move forward with an issue involving your lease, landlord, and housing (this includes opening a complaint/application with the TAL) reach out to: 

—Tribunal Administratif du Logement. 

Quebec’s governing body regulating housing, information, support, and official forms can be found here. 

—Legal Information Clinic at Mcgill. 

—Concordia’s Housing Resource Centre 

—Mile-End Legal Clinic. 

—Park Extension Legal Clinic, 

hosted by the Comité d’action de Parc-Extension (CAPE), 

—Tyndale St-Georges Legal Clinic, 

hosted by the Tyndale St-Georges Community Centre. 


The Popular Action Front for Urban Redevelopment (acronym in french), is a powerhouse org that provides support, information, resources and spearheads housing community mobilization. 

Privilege, Situation, and Position — location, location, location! So yes, this piece has (hopefully) provided some info to get you started in your apartment search with some how/where insights, and some basic legal protection info. 

Now comes the critical take: i invite you to situate yourself, to position yourself, to ask yourself what privilege and identities you carry with you, what your mere presence will bring to a neighborhood and how this might influence the current residents and the local economies and networks. You’re just not paying rent, you’re entering an ecosystem of culture, values, economies, politics, affect, memories, meanings, shared narratives. 

Urban change is inevitable, and i invite you to not fall into absolutist white-and-black narratives of good neighbor and evil gentrifier. Gentrification is real, complex, and

nonlinear. Rather, i invite you to immerse yourself in the complexity and messiness, and to the very least check your privilege and do what you can to make it better/less-worse for those already in a neighborhood and those who will arrive later (i.e., fight to keep your rent low!). And of course, to get to know your neighbors, neighborhood’s histories, and organizations—particularly tenant unions or housing groups. 

*Final words: Yes, i’ve been speaking of Montreal and ‘the city’ and regulations under the province of Quebec’s Tribunal. But let’s take a step back: this is all happening in unceded Indigenous land. The indigenous (Mohawk) name of Montreal is Tio’tia:ke/Mooniyang. Please visit for more info. If you can, engage in reparations—from monthly money donations to giving land back. 

For some reparation and mutual aid groups in Montreal, checkout: MSS – Montreal Solidarity Supply, Opendoor, Mobilizing for MP, Native Women’s Shelter, Resilience.