They are among the most deprived in society: retired or unemployed, on welfare or pensions, cannot read or are elderly. They have in common to live in tiny studios in a dilapidated apartment building that they will have to leave next August.

Canadian Armed Forces veteran Mathieu Métivier was unaware of the recent sale of his building that occurred a few weeks earlier, when “Martin” arrived at his home, he says in an interview with La Presse.

Hair tied up, jeans, blue vest under a coat, this representative of the new owner of the building informed him of the imminent work to come in the building, which Mathieu Métivier assures, once again, that he had never heard.

“He says to us, ‘I’m here to arrange your move.’ He says to us: “You tell me: how much do you want for your move?” recalls Mathieu Métivier.

Confused, pressed by this “Martin” to settle this file quickly, he agrees on the sum of $1,000 and affixes his name to the bottom of a document he does not understand: a termination of lease.

He was immediately handed a check for $500, the rest would come when he returned the keys.

“[We] were never told that we had to leave our place, that it was sold, that they are doing major work, none of that,” the veteran said before taking a break. “We were fooled all the way,” he said, emotion in his voice.

At least two other tenants of 1850 rue Viau told La Presse that they had accepted “Martin’s” offer.

Knowing her rights, Diane, 74, a resident of the building since 2009, refused to sign “Martin’s” offer. “They told me, in that case, we’re going to take you to court,” she recalls. At my age, I don’t want to move, then come back, then move again: I don’t have the capacity to do that. Living in boxes either, that does not interest me. »

The concierge of the building, Joseph*, signed him. “Martin came twice to harass me: hurry up and find you accommodation, worse this, worse that. […] It’s the pressure they put, I was tired, it was too much, he remembers. I accepted, I was under so much pressure, I don’t know that. »

“These are very vulnerable people who have signed agreements that they cannot read,” laments community organizer at the BAILS Committee, Annie Lapalme, who came to the rescue after being alerted to the situation.

She describes a modus operandi that she has seen too often in recent years.

“It’s an intermediary who has been hired to knock on doors and tell people that they absolutely have to leave because they are going to do work,” she explains, a strategy widely used by some owners who want to ” clear blocks”.

“If we weren’t in the picture, this building would have emptied very quickly,” said Annie Lapalme.

Those who refused to sign eventually received a lease renewal notice, along with a rent increase, all stamped by a provincial bailiff.

The document mentions work lasting six months which will allow the refurbishment of bathrooms and kitchens, an operation to exterminate bed bugs and the replacement of electrical wiring and plumbing pipes.

“If I have to leave here, I’ll end up on the street,” sighs one of the tenants, Karim Soufny, worried about looking for a new apartment given his Credit Report.

La Presse reached the owner of the building, Jacob Mund, who created the company 9485-3900 on February 21, three days before he bought 1850 rue Viau.

The latter denies having tried to intimidate his new tenants and claims to have informed them of the work he intended to undertake in the building.

“The papers we presented to them are very simple: if they want to leave, they sign a lease termination, if they want to stay, we send them a notice of major works with temporary eviction where the reasons for which we are doing the works are indicated, as is the amount of compensation offered to them,” he adds.

Hope remains for tenants like Mathieu Métivier who want to cancel the termination of the lease that they believe they have signed against their will, believes the lawyer specializing in housing law Daniel Crespo, especially if they have not yet cashed. “Martin’s” check.

“The Civil Code provides certain criteria or grounds by which consent can be said to have been vitiated. For example: the question of the fear that can arise from the way the owner presented the offer,” he explains.

However, the burden then falls on the injured party, the tenant in this case, to prove that there was a fault, an additional demonstration of the burden that the current system places on tenants, explains Daniel Crespo.

Coming on site Monday to see the distress of the tenants of 1850, rue Viau, the solidarity deputy for Hochelaga-Maisonneuve, Alexandre Leduc, is not angry.

The elected official does not hesitate to qualify the owner’s practices as “harassment” vis-à-vis these poor people “most of whom are unaware of the very basics of the right to housing”, like most citizens, for that matter.

“It’s the strategy of shock: we land and you have to sign, you have no choice,” said Alexandre Leduc with a sigh, convinced that we must try to prevent such practices.