Kafkaesque deadlines for renovating in Montreal

Since mid-September, his little house, located in the north of Montreal, in the Ahuntsic district, has been empty. With his wife and their two young children, they left the premises in anticipation of major and necessary modernization and expansion work.

But the work has not yet started. When will it start? I do not know, sighs Christian Pépin, who applied for a renovation permit in his borough in early July.

We didn’t hear from us until September, then we were asked for new plans, which we sent back immediately. No news since. I did not expect such long delays, he claims.

What is boring is not the pressure put on by the entrepreneur. We’re ready, I think I’ve done my homework, we’ve moved, but the last link is the borough.

A quote from:Christian Pepin

There is already the normal stress of the work, any surprises, of the move, of the contractor who has other contracts or even the difficulties to find temporary accommodation., he recalls.

Over the past few weeks, Radio-Canada has received numerous messages from exasperated households, experiencing similar stories that can have important consequences in their personal lives.

Like Christian Pépin, many Montreal families must take their troubles patiently.

It’s kafkaesque, for example wrote a mother. Others mention a lack or absence of follow-up and waiting for several months, sometimes up to a year, before having a letter, a call or an email from their borough. And this is not a rarity or an exception, far from it.

Christian Pépin and his family have already moved. Like so many other Montreal households, they deplore the slowness of the boroughs in issuing building or renovation permits.

Photo: Radio-Canada / Ivanoh Demers

463 days of waiting at LaSalle

According to statistics we have obtained, the delays in obtaining a building, alteration, renovation or demolition permit have skyrocketed in most central neighborhoods.

In Ville-Marie, for example, it currently takes 116 working days to receive a response from the borough, compared to 55 days in 2019. That is more than five months of waiting on average.

The delays have also doubled in the popular district of Villeray-Saint-Michel – Parc-Extension, going, in two years, from 26 days to 54 days.

Over the same period, such increases were also recorded in Côte-des-Neiges – Notre-Dame-de-Grâce (62 days), Outremont (70 days) or even in the Plateau-Mont-Royal, where it is now necessary wait almost four months. A duration, again, which has doubled since 2019.

In Ahuntsic-Cartierville, you now have to wait about an additional month to get municipal permission (68 days compared to 44 days in 2019). In Mercier-Hochelaga-Maisonneuve, 29 days of treatment were necessary two years ago. The wait has almost tripled, climbing to 73 days.

But the prize for the longest delays goes by far to the Borough of LaSalle.

Before receiving a building permit, a LaSalle resident must wait 463 days, the borough wrote to us. This is a dizzying increase, since the average delays were 133 days in 2019.

Bricks went upstairs

Renovation work is on the rise in Montreal

Photo: Radio-Canada / Ivanoh Demers

Complaints to the ombudsman have doubled

Since the start of the year, “the Montreal Ombudsman has received 16 complaints this year in connection with construction / renovation permits, eight more than last year,” Nadine Mailloux’s office told us.

This increase can be explained in particular by the increase in the number of households carrying out construction / renovation work, which leads to an increase in permit applications. [Notre bureau] ensures, for each file, that the boroughs issue permits in accordance with the regulatory framework and as quickly as possible. When this is not the case, we intervene accordingly.

Pandemic and labor shortage

How to explain these delays and this spectacular increase in delays?

It’s a long process, justifies the LaSalle borough, which processed 23 building permit applications this year.

For this type of site, involving new buildings, “requests are negotiated by town planners, then go through the town planning advisory committee (CCU) and the borough council,” says a spokesperson.

The arguments vary depending on the neighborhood. The pandemic is mentioned, but also the lack of personnel.

Like everywhere else, we had to contend with the labor shortage.

A quote from:Michel Tanguay, spokesperson for Plateau-Mont-Royal

There was a labor shortage in the borough in several sectors, which partly explains the increase in delays., we also assure in Outremont.

We must take into account the health context which has brought its share of problems, especially with regard to supply chains and labor.

A quote from:Vincent Gauthier, spokesperson for Outremont

Others emphasize an increase in the number of requests, even if, on the whole, according to the data provided to Radio-Canada, these figures remain rather stable.

The permit is visible on the balcony

A permit is required before starting work.

Photo: Radio-Canada / Ivanoh Demers

Work without a permit

It is impossible to have precise figures, but work carried out without a permit would have become commonplace in Montreal. The fault, mainly, with these long delays.

For example, an entrepreneur told us that he had a full schedule until the start of next year. Customers, for fear of postponement of work and the unavailability of the contractor, prefer to start their site without the municipal blessing.

Frédérique Croze is an interior designer in the metropolis. She is overwhelmed. I’ve never had so many requests, she says.

My role is to tell people to apply [de permis], but lots of people are doing their jobs without asking.

A quote from:Frédérique Croze, interior designer

It tells the story of customers wanting to redo their kitchen and bathroom. The permit was requested in December last year for work to begin in March. The positive response came in September; the site was finished.

“There are no contractors available,” she says. Customers often need to booker one before having the permit, it is necessary to block the date for the works. “

Faced with this situation, this architect discouraged households wishing to carry out work quickly. I tell them to wait a year, depending on the size of the project, to get all the permissions.

General contractor, Ramzee Raad confirms this complexity. This expectation, he says, also has major consequences for construction companies.

I turn down projects just because of this headache.

A quote from:Ramzee Raad, general contractor

“We have handcuffed hands, either we have to accept that or revise our project,” he laments.

What penalties for the offenders?

Montreal recently revised upwards the amount of fines intended for people who carry out work without a permit. For a first offense, the fine is $ 1,000. It was $ 350 until the beginning of 2020. The maximum amount is set, for a recurrence, at $ 4,000.

A man standing in an alleyway

François Croteau has been the mayor of Rosemont-La Petite-Patrie since 2009.

Photo: Radio-Canada / Romain Schué

Quite a mess

Some districts are doing better. In Verdun or Rosemont – La Petite-Patrie, in particular, the delays remain stable. We are talking, on average, of around 30 days to obtain a permit.

But it was at the cost of a great deal questioning, swears François Croteau, the mayor of Rosemont – La Petite-Patrie.

In his borough, two-thirds of permit applications are even analyzed in two weeks or less.

Four years ago, we were the district with the longest delays. We have given a boost, tells the elected official who will leave the political world. The latter was also the prime contractor for the digital transformation of the City of Montreal.

We were at the bottom of the barrel. We realized that it was quite a shambles. We took the time to analyze all the processes.

A quote from:François Croteau, mayor of Rosemont – La Petite-Patrie.

After an administrative analysis, the validation and analysis stages were reduced, like the number of people involved in the files. Applications are also made online. And the results are convincing. It was paying off for the borough, he says, referring to the receipts generated by these permits.

There has also been a decrease in the number of work without a permit, he believes.

Sometimes we blame the regulations or the complexity, but that’s not the problem. We must review our ways of doing things, he admits, inviting the other boroughs to take time to revise their own processes.

It is difficult for families. Renovating is a life project. There are a lot of renovations because people cannot afford to buy elsewhere and these families want to stay in town. We really have to help them, he insists. These delays add to anxiety.

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Kafkaesque deadlines for renovating in Montreal

Hank Gilbert