Old tenant is in a legal dispute with landlord-- should I take the apt?
July 2, 2014 9:09 PM   Subscribe

The apartment is otherwise perfect in mostly every way. Is this kind of thing a reason not to take it?

I've been apartment hunting in Montreal for the past two months (I'm moving August 1st). I realize this is a good position to be in because rent is so damn cheap in this city.

I visited a place today that seems like the one. This place is perfect in many ways, including being on a quiet, tree-lined street, having the 2 bedrooms far apart (front and back of apartment-- essential because I'm going to be living with my brother), having a balcony, being close to bus lines and to the school I'm going to, having lots of light.

The guy who showed me the place was very thorough and gave me a run-through of each room and any specific details about that room. He and his girlfriend (probably both mid-50s) gave off a good vibe... I didn't get any feeling of creepiness (and I am super sensitive to this).

But after his thorough tour he told me to sit down because what he was about to tell me was the "bad news" about the apartment. Basically he is in a legal dispute with the landlord because she tried to raise the rent higher than is legally allowed by the province (this is in Montreal-- tenants have very good rights in Quebec- better than any other province, probably). He said they are "suing each other". He offered to have me call the provincial board that deals with these disputes for confirmation that what she was doing was illegal and that he is most likely going to win the lawsuit. He wants his lease to be transferred to nice new tenants (ie: me and my brother) so that the landlord will not be able to raise the rent exorbitantly (if the landlord were to create a new lease, she would be able to do this, but not when you transfer an existing lease).

I was admittedly a little taken aback by the fact that there was a "sit down" portion of the visit in which the "bad news" would be administered, after I had received a great tour of the place. I'm not sure I fully understood the whole thing he was telling me.

He noticed my concern and was adamant that this would not affect me as a tenant and that I had nothing to worry about. He said he wanted to tell me the whole story thoroughly because he felt the duty to be fully honest but that perhaps the gravitas with which he had dealt with it made it seem like a bigger deal than it is. I expressed concern that I didn't want to have a crazy landlord, and he said that the landlord would have no reason to do anything unfair to me since she would already have been reported to the RĂ©gie.

For what it's worth (which I don't know is much), I felt like I could trust the guy. He seemed genuine and his girlfriend did too. But I've only known him for 3 hours.

Does this situation pose a very big risk to me as a new tenant?

Is the risk bad enough that I should consider not taking this perfect place (after not finding anything for 2 months)?
posted by winterportage to Law & Government (18 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Nice guy will leave, landlord will remain. Seems bad.
posted by joshu at 9:11 PM on July 2, 2014 [10 favorites]

As a landlord I do not take any pleasure in saying this but there may be some truth to this story. Taking up a lease that is still valid usually means that the landlord cannot raise it, which is much easier to do (even if it is illegal) between two leases. I have friends who live in really nice apartments in Mtl for really good prices because of a series of transfers between tenants that made it really difficult to raise the price of the apartment in any significant way. But honestly, these people have usually quite difficult relationships with their landlords, and the apartments slowly but steadily become less appealing, as the landlord has no interest in investing in them. One thing you could do is talk to the landlord directly and make them an offer on the apartment. That way, they will be more interested in helping out and you may still get a good deal.
posted by ddaavviidd at 9:41 PM on July 2, 2014 [1 favorite]

Can you afford it at the higher rate? That's the only way you're not going to be enemy number one of your new landlord.

If you take over that lease, you're going to be tying yourself to someone who isn't afraid to break the law and raise rent to illegal levels. Whose to say he's going to fix your heater or your busted toilet?
posted by furnace.heart at 9:43 PM on July 2, 2014 [3 favorites]

So he is trying to win a lawsuit to keep his rent low, just to turn around and transfer the lease?
I wonder whether he would try to get a "commission" of some sort from you?
I just wouldn't want to get in the middle of one person trying to hold another to an agreement that I had nothing to do with...
posted by calgirl at 9:46 PM on July 2, 2014 [3 favorites]

posted by chasles at 9:47 PM on July 2, 2014 [1 favorite]

If you inherit the lease, there's a good chance that you inherit the ill will; if you don't, then you may indeed get whacked with a big rent increase, plus a shorter lease term to reduce the risk of future disputes. You can go direct to the landlord and see where things stand, but you don't want to inset yourself into a dispute that wasn't of your making.
posted by holgate at 9:51 PM on July 2, 2014

Please don't get involved in this lease-transfer monkey business. It's peculiar that this guy is wanting to transfer the lease to you, an unknown person. Maybe he wants to stick it to the landlord, or maybe he has some other trick up his sleeve. Either way, it would be ill-advised. You'd be entering into an arrangement with immediate ill-will from the landlord, most likely; and in a bigger picture ethical sense, it's not really cool to game the system.

If you can deal with the landlord directly, and hammer out an equitable arrangement that doesn't involve a lease transfer, then go for it.
posted by nacho fries at 9:57 PM on July 2, 2014

There are enough troubles in life as it is, without getting in the middle of a lawsuit between two strangers.
posted by strangely stunted trees at 9:59 PM on July 2, 2014 [3 favorites]

Okay, stop listening to people here who don't know Quebec landlord-tenant law, which is really unlike the laws anywhere else. Most people here are wrong.

Transferring (aka assigning) a lease is totally standard here and entirely legal. However, it is not the case that if the landlord just writes a new lease, they can hike the rent up to any particular amount and you have no recourse -- you can just go to the Regie and complain that the hike was too high, same as a current tenant can. Landlords are legally obliged to tell you the rent paid by the last tenant.

Also, the numbers given by the Regie are not absolute maximums, but theoretical amounts if the tax bills stayed the same (they didn't, there have been massive hikes in some boroughs) and if no major repairs were done (who knows).

The landlord will need to approve of you being assigned the lease (and pretty much the only reason they can disapprove is if you have bad credit or a history of not paying rent) -- but then you're out of the search for 15 days, and if the landlord doesn't approve, even if you fight it, what are you planning to do when you need to move urgently?

It might not be a bad place to move, but you want to be sure that you're okay with the theoretical downside risks.
posted by jeather at 10:12 PM on July 2, 2014 [15 favorites]

While I'm sure jeather has way more info regarding Quebec law, I still say you should steer clear.

This landlord is ready to counter-sue if a tenant has problems. I'm a landlord (in NYC and never been sued, admittedly), but this is not a friendly, work-it-out type of deal.

I'd find another place.
posted by whoiam at 10:24 PM on July 2, 2014 [3 favorites]

You could always take it and then just expect to have a distant relationship with your landlord where you don't expect any but the absolute necessary of repairs.

It can be done.
posted by jbenben at 10:31 PM on July 2, 2014

I admit, I don't know how things work in Canada, but some things stand out that would bother me.

Why is the renter showing you/attempting to rent out the apartment? Why the landlord might have a current tenant show you the place, it seems really unlikely to me that they would do so if they were in conflict with said tenant. Plus, any final decisions about a new tenant would be the landlord's, not the tenant's.

Based on the tenant's own statements, doing things his way would drag you into the middle of the existing mess - not a good way to start a landlord/tenant relationship.

This just sounds hinky. In the U.S., I'd honestly be running, because it sounds scammy. Due to the unusual laws mentioned about, maybe it's just borderline enough to make those of us in less tenant-positive places uncomfortable.

Think about it this way. If someone you cared about was considering making this move, and you knew that stress was bad for them, they didn't need the hassle of possible legal issues in their future, and they might be facing financial risk to boot, would you consider the apartment worth it and tell them to take the chance? If you'd have any hesitation if the potential tenant was someone else, don't do it to yourself, either.
posted by stormyteal at 12:15 AM on July 3, 2014

The biggest concern I would have is this: the landlord, in the middle of this dispute, takes 15 days to refuse the lease being assigned to you. Now it's July 15, and you have to move in 2 weeks, and you don't have a place and haven't been looking. Sure, you can fight it -- and probably win -- but it's very unlikely to happen in July, so it's no help there.

You will definitely be inheriting a bad relationship with the landlord, and you have no particular reason to assume that the current tenant will win the rental increase dispute (or indeed continue to fight once they're gone) -- you inherit the results of that dispute and possibly the fight itself.

However, you're moving at a bad time -- there's not much stuff for August 1, you probably will need to take over someone else's lease. Have you checked out the facebook group for that? (If it's secret, mefimail me and I can invite you.)
posted by jeather at 5:04 AM on July 3, 2014

Previous tenant kinda wants to screw the landlord. Landlord is ignoring tenant regulations. If the landlord is an unfeeling corporation, might be fine. If the landlord is an individual who may be angry at you, might be a major pain if you need repairs or whatever. Also, may not be pleasant to rent from a landlord who ignores regulations. An option, just rent it from the landlord. And be cautious about interactions.
posted by theora55 at 6:45 AM on July 3, 2014

Regardless of the law, I would not want to have an antagonistic relationship with my landlord. It is incredibly tiring to constantly have to argue legal semantics to get what you want. The landlord has already indicated themselves to be the litigious type, even when they are possibly/probably in the wrong. That's not the sort of landlord I want.

Regardless of the law, I do not consider it ethical to live in such a way that forces the landlord to do something they would not otherwise do (ie, rent at sub-market rates).

I would not take the lease.
posted by saeculorum at 8:02 AM on July 3, 2014 [1 favorite]

Would it maybe be possible to have a quick conversation with the landlord and ask their side of the story and find out what the rent hike would be like? I wouldn't take either side's word for it right away. I'm not sure how Canadian law works, but, in the US, filing of a case like this would probably be public record and you may be able to find out some more factual information that way.

Personally, I wouldn't do it. I had a previous "landlord situation" and it was the worst. If they are not being mindful of current landlord-tenant laws in regards to rent hikes, what other regulations will they disregard when it's convenient/economical for them? I think you're overlooking this because you're coming up towards the end of your search and the apartment itself is a good fit. I say keep looking and save your sanity in advance.
posted by sevenofspades at 8:04 AM on July 3, 2014

Listen to Jeather. This actually isn't that unusual in Quebec. Before I owned my own place I had a great little apartment and arranged a lease transfer to another student so that the student would benefit from the low rental rate I had. The landlord was not impressed, as I had been there for quite a while and he wanted to "renovate" and then raise the rent substantially. Rather than deal with going through the Regie the new tenant (to my chagrin) decided to walk away. Landlord painted, made a few minor improvements in the bathroom and jacked the rent way up.

It sounds to me like the guy moving out is like me - he wants to keep the rent reasonable for the next tenant and what he is doing is totally legal and it would be very difficult for the landlord to refuse. You just have to decide if you want to deal with the 15 day waiting period and a potentially cranky landlord. Benefit: good rental rate, helps keep the city affordable for everyone.
posted by Cuke at 8:32 AM on July 3, 2014 [1 favorite]

One bit of context, if you're new to Quebec (and for other mefites): almost all leases start and end on July 1st. Otherwise, most moves entail a lease transfer, not a new lease.
posted by third word on a random page at 4:50 PM on July 3, 2014

« Older What's it like to work in The Office for nine...   |   Best type of ink (and pen) for longevity and... Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.