Old Montreal battles garbage, graffiti & unlicensed short-term rentals

Pop Goes The News – One of the most-visited neighbourhoods of Montreal has become an increasingly filthy embarrassment for residents, business owners and tourism officials.

This vacant building, only metres from the Notre-Dame Basilica, has been targeted by vandals.

“It’s shocking, to be honest,” said Kate Parker, visiting the historic district from New Brunswick. “I definitely wasn’t expecting to see so much trash everywhere. It’s kind of disgusting.”

Paul and Carmen, visitors from Maine who did not want to share their surnames, said they will never be back in Old Montreal. “It looked so nice and romantic in the videos that we saw online but it’s nothing like that,” said Paul. “There’s litter everywhere and piles of garbage.” Carmen added: “We came out of a place [on Saint-Paul St. W] yesterday and saw a rat feasting on something on the ground. Gross.”

Dan Leblanc works in Old Montreal and said he has watched its decline with great disappointment. He pointed out there has been silence from mayor Valerie Plante and councillor Robert Beaudry, who represents the neighbourhood. “They know that most tourists who come to Old Montreal don’t come back so they don’t care,” he said. “They seem to forget there are thousands of people who live and work here.” 

Looking for Place Jacques-Cartier? The City installed a sign in Place d’Armes that points in the wrong direction.

One of the hardest-hit parts of Old Montreal is a busy single block of Notre-Dame St. West between Saint-Sulpice and Saint-Laurent, where there are currently at least five abandoned restaurants and stores, three construction sites and a plethora of unlicensed short-term rental units.

One of the construction sites – the transformation of a long-neglected building at 39 Notre-Dame W. into short-term rental units and a restaurant – was issued a “stop work” order by the City of Montreal last month. (Joaquim Rodrigues, the inspector whose name appears on the order, said he was not able to share the reasons for the work stoppage.) The building has since been targeted by vandals who have covered two exterior walls with graffiti and tagged a front window.

Garbage is piled up around overflowing trash bins on Notre-Dame W. at Saint-Laurent.

Residents have expressed concerns about pieces of rusted metal hanging off the upper ledge of the building. (Rodrigues said the metal will be “restored in the coming weeks.”)

Adjacent to the building is the former municipal parking lot that was closed in December 2019 and has been surrounded with concrete barriers and metal fencing since last July. Late last year there was an archeological dig on the site ahead of the beginning of construction on a new federal courthouse.

There is some optimism on the block: A patisserie moved in late last year and a Korean fusion restaurant is taking over a formerly problematic shoe store. But, residents are concerned more businesses won’t come because of the garbage problem on the block.

In the winter months, the sidewalk is covered in litter and the six bins located on either end of the block are typically overflowing with garbage. Many of the homeless men who flock to the depanneur to buy single cans of beer simply toss the empties on the ground.

Residents also blame cleaners and guests of the dozens of short-term rental units on the block.

Only one building – at 60 Notre-Dame W. – is licensed for short-term rentals, yet there are units at 7, 15, 30, 35 and 48 Notre-Dame W.

If a CITQ number is not displayed in an Airbnb posting, the rental is unlicensed.

Annick Bariteau of the Division of Permits and Inspections for the borough of Ville-Marie said individuals can rent out their principal residences if they obtain a license and display the number.

Most of the Old Montreal lofts and apartments listed on Airbnb, though, do not show a license number, as required by law. Some that do are not, in fact, anyone’s “principle residence” but instead are managed exclusively as short-term rental units by companies with multiple listings in Old Montreal.

“Seb,” an Airbnb “superhost” with multiple unlicensed units in Old Montreal listed on the site, doesn’t exist. A quick search of his photo reveals it’s a stock image.

The photo used in multiple Airbnb listings for “superhost” Seb is, in fact, a stock image.

Revenu Quebec will only say that it is aware of many unlicensed rentals in Old Montreal and is investigating. It encourages people to report unlicensed units.

Of course, tourists looking for inexpensive accommodations don’t care about scofflaw operators. But they do notice the state of the streets around their temporary homes.

“It’s probably the filthiest place I’ve ever been,” said Sandra, visiting from Boston. “I mean, everywhere in Montreal is filthy and covered in graffiti but you’d think this part of the city would be kept up better. It’s really disgusting. You literally have to watch where you’re walking because you can trip over a bag of garbage.”

An open ventilation shaft on Saint-Laurent at De La Commune, just steps from the Old Port, has become someone’s home.

The biggest garbage problem is at 15 Notre-Dame W, a building that has both full-time tenants and short-term rental units. Even though garbage collection is on Mondays and Thursdays, tenants and guests place trash in front of the building seven days a week. One tenant of the building has been caught on camera walking his garbage to the alley beside 39 Notre-Dame W and also piling it up around the bins at the corner of Notre-Dame W and Saint-Laurent.

The City of Montreal confirmed there have been numerous complaints about 15 Notre-Dame W. and there are active investigations that could result in offenders being ticketed.

Of course, Old Montreal is not alone is dealing with cleanliness issues – the whole city has taken on a post-apocalyptic vibe in recent years (exasperated by pandemic lockdowns).

“There is literally trash and cigarette butts over the streets,” someone opined in a Reddit forum. “All the big alleyways pooling with garbage and broken boxes. Sticky garbage juice all over the place. Sidewalks filthy with caked on dirt and dust … There are abandoned buildings boarded up, with rats running around outside. Tons of unfinished construction projects… dog shit everywhere and some lots that seem like a dumping ground for various types of trash.”

Another person commented: “Its (sic) humiliating that people all over the country are comming (sic) to Montreal for business and see this crap. Everything looks destroyed.”

One comment reads: “Montreal is really dirty. We have a problem. Its (sic) dirty, trash everywhere, lots of things are falling apart, tags and graffiti everywhere. Roads and sidewalks are disgusting.”