This article is part of our joint investigation into Airbnb and the housing crisis with Pivot. You can read a French version on their site.
Since 2021, 59 per cent of the properties purchased in Quebec’s Magdalen Islands (les Îles-de-la-Madeleine) are not intended to be primary residences, and a quarter of all homes purchased have been acquired by people living outside the archipelago.
This data, analyzed by Pivot and Ricochet as part of our national investigation into short-term rentals, highlights a fact already well-known to local ‘Madelinots’ renters: that summer cottages and short-term rentals — often illegal — are gradually transforming the Islands into a resort community for tourists.
Regulations to curb the problem exist, but questions regarding enforcement remain.
Magdalen Islands resident Jeanne Lebel says some residents are pushed out of their own homes for months in the summer to make way for tourists.
“People [from outside] rent as tourists in the summer," explains Lebel. People from the mainland who own homes on the archipelago “keep them for themselves for a week or two, in the summer, and then [in winter], they want to rent to the Madelinots [...] at [high] prices that we're not used to paying.”
She says that the Madelinots have long been accustomed to renting out their own homes to tourists in summer. They would spend the season in a trailer and return home in the fall. The problem is that this practice is being increasingly extended to secondary residences, which are rented to locals during the year and travelers during the summer season. Instead of the owners, it’s the renters who are put out on the street when summer comes.
Families and children on the street
There are rental units for the winter months, but “get ready for May!” complains Lebel. She says that she’s seen “entire families, with children, on the street.”
In recent years, the housing crisis in the Islands has become more acute, and summer evictions are a well-known fact. Finding year-round accommodation is difficult and it's not uncommon to see landlords who prefer to rent out their homes to tourists by the week and at a premium rate in summer.
Tenants have no choice but to sign leases for eight months, from September or October to May, not knowing if they'll be able to move back the following fall.
“It’s not really worthwhile to find something in fall and then have to start looking again in spring,” explains Jeanne Lebel. “And your things, where do you put them? It doesn’t make sense.
“As far as I'm concerned, the Islands have been sold to tourists.”
Last year, a Housing Search Assistance Service was set up. The year before, an emergency shelter had to be opened in a former arena.
Tourism is the region's second-largest economic driver, after commercial fishing, explains Antonin Valiquette, mayor of the municipality of the Magdalen Islands, during a telephone interview. The model that had been developed, with tourists mostly staying in the houses of the Madelinots, “ensured that the economic spin-offs from tourism were distributed throughout the population,” he adds.
But "since the pandemic, with the real estate boom, we've realized that the supply of houses for sale or rent on a year-round basis is not sufficient to meet demand," says the mayor. He adds that "the municipality is working to add rental housing, which has been very underdeveloped in recent decades."
While platforms such as Airbnb are being used, most offers for housing and cottages in the Magdalen Islands can be found on Facebook.
Ricochet and Pivot saw numerous listings for weekly accommodation in various private groups, many of which did not display a permit number from the Corporation de l'industrie touristique du Québec (CITQ), which is illegal.
Private Facebook groups also feature ads for accommodations available only in winter. For example, a Montreal couple, who owns at least three residences on the islands, offers rentals "by the week in summer. By the month in winter."
They’re not the only ones looking for renters for the winter months only.
Houses are becoming cottages
Data shows that the Magdalen Islands belong less and less to the Madelinots.
Pivot and Ricochet analyzed data on residential real estate sales between January 1, 2021 and July 1, 2023. We tracked and catalogued 455 transactions.
Using the municipal property assessment roll, it is possible to determine whether the landlord has listed the property as their principal residence or not. We also totalled the number of owners whose principal residence is located outside the archipelago.
During the period under review, only 41.3 per cent of properties purchased had a live-in owner. More than half of them are thus used as secondary residences (or investment vehicles).
Moreover, during the same period, a quarter of new owners had a principal address outside the archipelago.
For the first six months of 2023, the situation is even more stark: of the 56 transactions recorded, only 13 of the new owners (23 per cent) list the property as their principal residence.
Worryingly, out of the 116 buyers living outside the Islands, 87 per cent list “housing” as their new property’s main use on the property assessment roll; only 5 per cent list “cottage or vacation home,” and 5 per cent “tourist residence.” This means that year-round homes are being converted into cottages. These numbers further underscore how housing use has changed on the Magdalen Islands.
Pivot and Ricochet have also compared the addresses of the houses purchased with the zoning map of the Magdalen Islands. Very few of them are located in areas dedicated to tourism. Indeed, an amendment to the urban planning bylaws, adopted in March 2022, restricts new tourist residences (second homes rented to tourists) to these zones only.
This means that, in most cases, these new landlords couldn’t legally rent out their homes on a short-term basis during the tourist season.
“I don’t have anything against tourism,” says Jeanne Lebel. “I work for people who rent houses. They do it respectfully. They bought a house that was already a tourist residence. They declare their revenues.”
However, she worries that increasing house prices and the housing crisis will force more and more Madelinots to leave the archipelago.
Who checks for irregularities?
Mayor Antonin Valiquette explains that, under provincial regulations, landlords must obtain a permit number from the CITQ to operate a tourist residence. Before granting it, this agency calls the municipality and, if it's a secondary residence outside a tourist area, the permit will be refused.
“That being said, if you rent anyway, you expose yourself to risks," says the mayor. "It's Revenu Québec that can catch you."
He adds that “bylaws are applied to the extent that I block permit applications that don't comply with municipal regulations.”
However, he judges that "it's up to the [provincial] government to enforce a [provincial] law", in cases where people circumvent the law. He doesn't want to see the municipality denouncing their citizens.
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If there's a complaint from a citizen, the municipality can check it out, but the mayor insists that he doesn't have “the manpower, or the municipal inspectors, to send out to the Magdalen Islands to verify whether a house is rented or not, and whether the rental falls within the standards of [provincial] law.” Complaints are thus forwarded to Revenu Québec, “so they can do their own verification,” he adds.
Between 2022 and2023, Revenu Québec carried out seven inspections in the Magdalen Islands. According to figures obtained by Pivot and Ricochet, two violations were reported.
Mylène Gagnon, spokesperson for Revenu Québec, told Ricochet and Pivot in an interview that once a statement of offense has been issued, the legal process takes its course and may lead to a conviction. In the year 2022-2023, there were six convictions and Revenu Québec charged a total of $23,750 in fines under the Loi sur l’hébergement touristique.
Mayor Valiquette believes that the new regulations act as a deterrent, but that “we'll have to see.”
As for houses converted to second homes, Valiquette explains that he can't interfere with sales. "The municipality doesn't have the power to dictate to landlords who buys what. If a seller finds a buyer, the municipality can't tell them that they can't sell."
With the new regulations, “we've gone as far as we can go,” he says. “If the enforcement needs to be improved, we'll have to talk to Revenu Québec to establish a more rigorous application of their own law.”
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