The owner of the building in Old Montreal where seven people died in a violent fire on March 16, had received several notices of violation from the Service de sécurité incendie de Montréal (SIM) over the past 14 years, for inaccessible emergency stairs, the absence of smoke detectors and the absence of fire doors, in particular.

Documents obtained under the Law on Access to Documents from Public Bodies indicate that the owner of the building at 224, place D’Youville, Émile Benamor, was met several times by the SIM because of these shortcomings.

The notices of non-compliance concern the burned building, but also other properties of Émile Benamor, in Old Montreal and in Côte-des-Neiges. The SIM has initiated legal proceedings for several of these offences.

Some work would have been done over the years to bring the buildings up to standard.

As early as 2009, SIM inspectors noted that, after obtaining a permit from the City of Montreal, the owner had refurbished a third-floor apartment in the Place D’Youville building, “but the layout of this apartment other tenants no longer have access to the fire escape (second exit),” their report states, which also notes the lack of fire doors and “dead end corridors” for two apartments, on the second and third floors.

In 2011, a complaint on this subject was forwarded by the SIM to the Régie du bâtiment du Québec. A complaint was also reportedly made to the City’s Urban Planning Division.

The documents consulted do not make it possible to know what follow-up was done following these complaints.

In 2020, a notice of non-compliance was issued by the SIM for the Place D’Youville building, requiring the installation of a fire alarm system that complies with the Building Code and ensuring a sound pressure level of at least 85 dBa (A-weighted decibels) indoors.

The documents obtained from the SIM do not indicate whether these shortcomings have been corrected by the owner.

When the fire was raging, two people who rented accommodation in the building on the Airbnb platform called the emergency services, saying that there were no windows in the apartment and that the intensity of the flames prevented them from go out the door.

For other buildings belonging to Émile Benamor, notices of compliance were issued as recently as April 5, so after the fatal fire in Old Montreal.

For an apartment located at 427, avenue Viger, the inspection of last April 4 mentions in particular that “the means of escape (window) leading to the backyard is impassable, window with caulking impossible to open, presence of a padlock on the exit door from the courtyard”.

We also note that the wooden balconies allowing evacuation, for the same building, are rotten and must be repaired. At the same address, a notice dated August 2021 requests the replacement of smoke detectors and repairs to fire walls.

For the building located at 698 Notre-Dame Street West, which houses Pub Victoria on the ground floor, the fire prevention inspector reported on April 5 that six apartments do not have a second exit, that the pub does not have a compliant fire escape and the fire separations do not meet standards.

For 400-406 Notre-Dame Street East, an inspection report from September 2020 indicates that an emergency staircase is not functional and requires several improvements: installation of a fire alarm system, sprinklers and fire extinguishers, provision of fire separations, security lighting and exit signs, etc.

Reached in the evening, Émile Benamor’s lawyer, Me Alexandre Bergevin, asked to read the SIM documents before commenting on them. “Most building owners have notices of non-compliance,” he simply pointed out.

A coroner’s inquest has been launched following the seven deaths in the Place D’Youville fire.

The father of one of the victims has also filed a class action lawsuit seeking $22 million on behalf of relatives of those who died.