The owner of the heritage building ravaged by Thursday’s disastrous fire on Place d’Youville swears that he inspected his buildings almost daily to eliminate any risk of fire, but says he had a hard time with the subletting of his apartments on Airbnb. An entrepreneur who illegally sublet some burnt-out homes also said he was surprised at the amount of money earned through the popular platform.
Lawyer Émile Benamor, who owns the burned building where several people are missing, testified on December 15 at the Montreal municipal court, in a case that pitted him against the Montreal firefighters. Inspectors from the Fire Safety Department had visited another of its buildings, rue Notre-Dame, near City Hall, a few months earlier. While trying to test a retractable fire escape, one of them fell and broke his ankle. A statement of offense had been given to the owner for having maintained an emergency exit in poor condition.
In sworn testimony before Judge Cathy Noseworthy, Me Benamor had assured that he would do everything to reduce the risk of fire. “I have my responsibilities as an owner and I take my responsibilities very seriously. These are historic buildings that I take great care of, “we hear him hammering on the recording of the hearing, consulted by La Presse in court.
“I start my day at 6:30 a.m. in my buildings, because I have about fifteen to check,” he explained, pointing out that the building visited by the inspectors was “identical” to his other property. on Place d’Youville – the one that would burn down three months later.
“I visit my buildings every day,” he repeated several times to the judge.
“We check that there are no cigarettes left there, no water flowing. I do it every day between 6:30 a.m. and 7:30 a.m. On weekends I rest, but during the week I pass. »
Me Benamor had explained to the court that he kept his title of lawyer, but that he had practically ceased the practice of law. “I just take care of my buildings,” he said.
In this case, the firefighters who had inspected his building on Notre-Dame Street had gone there because of suspicions about the presence of a clandestine rooming house. However, it was rather a non-profit organization that provided accommodation, the owner had pleaded. “They have a permit, they can operate,” he said.
The judge had acquitted Émile Benamor and canceled the statement of offense, after finding that he had quickly repaired the non-functional fire escape.
Me Benamor declined an interview to discuss Thursday’s tragedy. The lawyer who represents his interests, Me Alexandre Bergevin, however assured that he was collaborating in the police investigation.
Regarding the unusual interior layout of certain apartments, in particular a unit without windows to the outside, where two people died who had called 911 and said they were unable to get out, Mr. Bergevin pointed out that the building had this configuration when it was purchased and the authorities have never reproached in this regard.
Me Bergevin points out that tenants of the burned building were illegally subletting accommodation for short-term stays on Airbnb. “Steps were being taken to end it,” he said.
According to La Presse research, an entrepreneur who rented several units in the building in order to sublet them on web platforms for short-term accommodation is called Tariq Hasan, owner of the accommodation company Avenoir Inc. ., some of whose ads are still visible online. The City of Montreal had also imposed a statement of offense at this address in connection with the presence of garbage last year, according to the registers of the municipal court.
Asked about the fact that the owner let a contractor rent several apartments in the building at the same time, Me Bergevin admitted that he had allowed a tenant to sublet certain apartments for rentals of a month or more. , which is permitted by municipal regulations. However, he would have tried to get rid of this tenant when he realized that the latter was more of a short-term rental for visitors and tourists, which is illegal and causing concern for the owner.
A US podcast for Airbnb hosts called Short Term Rental Success Stories featured the story of Tariq Hasan and his company in 2019. Mr. Hasan explained that he worked in software development at a company in Montreal, but quit his job. to focus 100% on short-term rentals on Airbnb and other similar platforms.
“I really became fascinated with this space because of the tremendous opportunity for cash flow,” he explained. He said he had accommodations to sublet in several buildings, employed a small group of employees, and spoke of the manna represented by tourists during the summer, in particular thanks to the Osheaga festival.
“I myself was surprised at the returns on investment I got,” he said.
Two weeks ago, however, on LinkedIn, Mr. Hasan complained about the service recently offered by the multinational. “Their customer service has deteriorated significantly. Users, especially hosts, are less happy with the platform,” he wrote.
Reached by La Presse on his cell phone, Mr. Hasan refused to discuss the fire. “I wouldn’t know anything about that,” he blurted out before hanging up.