For the 20 tenants of the Borden Place Residence at 4635 Place Borden in NDG , the assisted living facility is a sweet taste of home. Though many are in their eighties and nineties, they are generally autonomous and mobile. The long-time staff gives them assistance whenever needed. It is like one big extended family.
Their rooms give them privacy, with their own bathrooms, and the furnishings are those of the tenants bringing with them memories of lives well and long-lived. The neighborhood is intimate and friendly. After some 25 years in existence, the tenants had no reason to think that they could not live out their lives in this convivial and nurturing environment. Then money, courts and unfeeling bureaucracy fatefully conspired to turn their quiet lives into nightmares.
The building is the property of the CSDM, la Commission scolaire du Montréal. The CSDM leased the building to a numbered company named 9044-0959 Quebec Inc. It was that company that ran the business, paid the employees and it was to that company that the tenants paid their monthly rents that averaged approximately $2,000 per month per tenant. The tenants paid on time and there was never a problem with collections.
In 2007, only one year remained on 9044’s lease. Because school board elections were to be held, the lease was extended to the end of June 2008.
In a letter dated June 20, 2008, on the letterhead of an organization entitled Fondation SRA headquartered in St. Lambert, addressed to CSDM property manager Carmel Harrigan, a request is made that the lease be extended for a period of 10 years with a five year option. The letter makes clear the intention of the Fondation to eventually buy the building. The letter was co-signed by Linda Boudreau as President and executive director of the Fondation and by Michel Tremblay as President of Groupe Carrpa. Under his title, in brackets, are the following words: “the actual proprietor of the titles of 9044-0959 Quebec Inc.)
In the letter itself, Boudreau and Tremblay state that they expected to have all titles and rights in the residence transferred from 9044 to the Fondation SRA by the end of June 2008. In a letter from Harrigan dated the 5th of November 2007 and addressed to Boudreau and the Fondation stating that the CSDM is willing to consider transferring the lease from 9044 to the Fondation if the Fondation obtains the proper accreditation for managing a seniors’ residence, which Harrigan states clearly it had not yet done.. It is clear from the June 2008 letter that Boudreau and Tremblay had not yet finished those arrangements.
The CSDM refused the request for a 10-year lease. By all accounts, 9044 continued to manage the residence properly, collected the rents, paid the staff and tended satisfactorily to the needs of the tenants. Unknown to the tenants and their families however, was the fact that neither the Fondation nor 9044 were remitting the monthly rent to the CSDM of $6,831.02 or $81,972.24 annually. The annual rents being paid by the tenants of Place Borden averaged approximately $480,000. Now the nightmare began.
No rents were paid at all to CSDM for some three years. In March of this year the CSDM obtained a judgment in Superior Court against the Fondation SRA for $287,836.66. It also ordered the Fondation to vacate the premises at Place Borden within 40 days. The judgment said nothing about the residents having to leave.
Despite the judgment, Michel Tremblay — now signing as Executive Director of the Fondation SRA — sent a letter on July 5, 2012 to Gilles Petitclerc, Executive Director of the CSDM, offering once again to enter into negotiations to buy the building and also stating his surprise that the Fondation was identified as the commercial tenant of the CSDM in the judgment because according to Tremblay the entity that is “exploiting the operations of the premises” was and remains 9044-0959 Quebec Inc. Tremblay sent this letter despite a letter sent by CSDM’s lawyer Jean Renaud on the 22nd of June to the Fondation’s lawyer Michel Villeneuve stating unequivocally that the CSDM refuses all offers from the Fondation. But that letter also had something more sinister in it that unleashed the hell the residents now find themselves in.
In that letter, Jean Renaud stated that his client (CSDM) was “actually in discussions with the Health and Social Services agency of Montreal” to move out all the residents. The judgment made no mention that the residents were to be touched. No one questioned that the residents paid their rents on time. Yet the CSDM — after three years of doing nothing to collect its commercial rent — instead of putting in a trustee to run the residence or giving management over to a non-profit social housing organization like ROMEL that manages some 1,000 doors for the City of Montreal, decides to attack the most vulnerable victims of this bizarre situation — the tenants themselves. The CSDM recognizes no fiduciary responsibility to the seniors nor any responsibility for its negligence in not going after the Fondation and/or 9044 for three years.
Within five days of Renaud’s letter, Agence de santé representatives as well as social workers from CLSC Cavendish showed up at Borden to discuss relocation with the tenants and their families and friends. Everyone was informed that they were officially evicted as of June 30 but that the Agence had negotiated an extension with the CSDM until August 31. Margaret Ford, well known community activist and former director for sports and recreation for the CDN/NDG borough, said the residents were panicked and scared. Ford herself has a 98-year-old aunt living there. She said that the Agence and CLSC representatives were well aware of the terrible health effects such a dislocation would have on vulnerable seniors, but that their hands were tied because it was the decision of the CSDM. She even confronted Tremblay and asked why the CSDM had not been paid. Ford said Tremblay responded that he was trying to maintain his “leverage” in negotiating a long-term lease.
Ford organized meetings with the tenants and the families. They came up with a business plan where they would run the residence with accountants in place and remit the rents to CSDM and pay the staff. On July 4 there was another meeting. Ford told us that Lita Beliard of the Agence de santé voiced sympathy for the plan but the CSDM representative said he would have nothing to do with it. That the CSDM extension was final and that he was going away on vacation on Friday July 6. School commissioner for the area Marie-José Mastromonaco told Ford the situation was very “complicated” and that she too was going on vacation but would look into it again when she returned. She assured Ford that the CSDM had no designs on the building.
Ford and some of the tenants consulted noted tenants rights advocate Arnold Bennett. Injunctions in cases like these are very costly. But he outlined a very novel plan of filing a mise-en-demeure for damages for breach of their leases, moving expenses, difference in rent and “moral damages” for the psychological and physical pain suffered. He suggested that this be done at the rental board as the costs would be considerably less than in court. He also suggested that the media would be of help. That is actually how I became apprised of this horror.
We tried to reach everyone from the CSDM who was involved in this. No one from the CSDM returned our phone calls except Nathalie Roberge who is responsible for media relations. She took down our questions and promised to call back promptly. She did. But with very few answers. To our question as to why it took the CSDM three years to act, she said she did not know because the responsible people were not in. To our question as to why not simply hold execution of the judgment for a year and try a plan with new management since there was no question of the tenants ability to pay, she responded that the CSDM interpreted the judgment as giving the CSDM the right to evict. When I pointed out that it clearly did not, I was told to lower my “tone of voice.” When I did and asked the question again, I was told she had already answered that question, that that was the CSDM’s interpretation. When I asked why not act for humanitarian reasons and leave the tenants there since the CSDM had a large real estate department that could easily handle the building, she responded that the CSDM was being “humaine” because it gave an extension until Aug. 31 for eviction even though their lawyers had demanded June 30. When I pointed out that their lawyers were acting unilaterally and without colour of right, she repeated that the CSDM interpreted the judgment that way. Finally, to our question as to why the action was taken against the Fondation rather than 9044 which by Tremblay’s admission was the commercial tenant and the CSDM itself had never recognized 9044’s attempt to switch proprietorship, she said that it was the court that “recognized” the Fondation as the tenant.
This story is far from over. The burden on the tenants is overwhelming. Three tenants have actually moved and a few have found accommodations, but at an average of $1,000-$1,500 more a month. Others have simply found beds. The situation is heartbreaking. But there seems to be a new resolve among the tenants to fight. We are trying to help them. As unhelpful as the CSDM has been, our calls to various provincial and municipal officials for intervention give cause for hope. The CSDM itself, in its correspondence, states that it operates under the direction of the Ministry of Education. Our message to those we have contacted has been to get the Minister to issue a “do it” order. Leave the tenants in peace and bring in new management. We have reason for cautious optimism that this tragic situation may yet have a compassionate resolution.