A building in Griffintown that was supposed to house housing is now home to a sprawling apartment hotel where each night costs between $150 and $2,000.
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Yesterday, our Bureau of Investigation reported that in the midst of a housing crisis, Quebec will lend $30 million to the multinational Sonder, which specializes in short-term rentals, like Airbnb.
The US-based firm manages the rental of 389 apartments in Montreal.
However, we found that 47 of these apartments are in one building, the Richmond, which should have housed more traditional housing.
In 2011, developer Groupe Dayan applied for a zoning change to allow it to transform former industrial buildings in Griffintown into a 300-unit residential project.
Photo Charles Mathieu
An example of 3 1/2 of this building asking over $200 a night when Le Journal recently rented it.
This complex was to contribute “to the creation of a new living environment”, can be read in the documents presented to the elected officials of the Sud-Ouest district in Montreal.
Applying for a building permit for the first phase of his project, the developer asked instead to build an 84-unit apartment hotel.
Of this number, 47 apartments are currently managed by Sonder and another seven are for rent on Airbnb by the Dayan Group.
“It’s a business decision,” said company president Georges Dayan, who declined to comment further.
Sonder was thus able to take advantage of the zoning change to settle in Richmond, just before the Sud-Ouest district considerably restricted the possibility of making Airbnb-type rentals there.
“It is sure that years later, with a housing crisis that is there, it is frustrating. There, we are currently making sure that cases of this type, we do not have any. We really regulate ”, says the mayor of the South-West and responsible for housing within the Plante administration, Benoît Dorais.
Since 2019, short-term rentals are prohibited in the Sud-Ouest, except for a short stretch of rue Notre-Dame.
“The use of a hotel-apartment, in a residential area, was still authorized in 2018. [Sonder] they are now ‘grandfathers’,” says district communications officer Anyck Paradis.
“At the time the permit was issued, tourist residences were authorized in this area,” Sonder also defended.
In its 300-condominium project, the Dayan Group had also committed to building 15% social housing and 15% affordable housing. Forty-seven of these units will start this fall.
Hotels without reception
The Sonder company can operate “hotels” without employees at the reception, even if the current municipal regulations no longer allow it.
According to permits obtained from Tourisme Québec, Sonder currently operates two “tourist residences,” including the Richmond, and four “hotels.”
Upon visiting us, we discovered that three of the four Sonder hotels do not have a front desk clerk on site.
These are the Gare St-Denis projects, opposite the CHUM, Victoria, in Old Montreal, and Lofts Guérin in Le Plateau-Mont-Royal.
In this last place, when Sonder opened his establishment, the municipality had already tried to counter unmanned hotels.
However, the regulations were not specific enough to prevent Sonder from offering its receive-only service remotely.
“Indeed, a reception had been installed in the establishment, and since the concept of service was not really defined, it was difficult to demand something at this level”, explains the communication manager of the Plateau-Mont-Royal, Michel Tanguay.
Therefore, this municipality had to re-regulate itself to counteract projects like Sonder’s.
This is also the case in the Ville-Marie and Sud-Ouest districts, which now require hotels to have an employee on duty 24 hours a day.
Sonder also opposed this regulation.
“There has to be a reception, with someone who is physically there on the spot. Otherwise, it is not in compliance ”, stresses the head of housing within the Plante administration, Benoit Dorais.
However, Sonder can operate three of its hotels under the old regulations, by virtue of acquired rights, the company defended itself.
“For this reason, we cannot speak of non-compliance with our regulations, nor require the presence of an employee 24 hours a day”, specifies Michel Tanguay.
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