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Firefighters continue the search for victims March 20 at the scene of last week’s fire that left one person dead and six people missing in Montreal.Ryan Remiorz/The Canadian Press

The government of Quebec plans to introduce new legislation cracking down on illegal short-term rentals in the province after a massive fire in a Montreal building containing Airbnb units left one dead and at least six missing last week.

The city’s mayor, Valérie Plante, also urged Airbnb to stop posting illegal listings and repeated calls for more provincial inspectors of such rentals. The building consumed by fire last Thursday was outside of the zones where Airbnbs are permitted in Montreal.

Firefighters continued dismantling the charred husk of the historic William-Watson-Ogilvie building in Old Montreal on Monday, after pulling the body of a woman from the rubble on Sunday.

Police said that the six people currently known to be missing were from Quebec, Ontario and the United States, although police chief Fady Dagher said there could be more. Nine people were injured in the blaze, including two who remained hospitalized.

Court documents and tenants are beginning to paint a portrait of the building’s landlord, Émile-Haim Benamor, who owns numerous properties in Montreal. In 2020, fire inspectors visited an address on Notre-Dame Street owned by Mr. Benamor, after a tenant complained about the presence of an alleged clandestine rooming house in the building.

During the visit, an inspector tested out the fire escape, but the cable suspending it in the air suddenly snapped, plunging the structure and the inspector to the ground, where he suffered a broken ankle.

Mr. Benamor was charged with failing to have an emergency exit maintained in adequate condition, but was acquitted last year because there wasn’t enough proof he had failed to show diligence in addressing the issue.

Alonso Martinez Pena, a former tenant of Mr. Benamor’s in the neighbourhood of Westmount, said that he felt unsafe in the landlord’s building. Feces came out of the basement sink owing to an alleged plumbing issue and the emergency exit was fastened shut with screws for reasons Mr. Pena didn’t understand.

“I have a really bad taste in my mouth,” he said.

Neither Mr. Benamor nor his lawyer, Alexandre Bergevin, replied to requests for comment on Monday. On Sunday, Mr. Bergevin said that Airbnb rentals in the Old Montreal building where last week’s blaze broke out were not being operated by his client but by tenants, adding that steps had been taken in the past to stop the practice.

Mr. Bergevin told The Canadian Press in a text message that the building’s alarm system had been replaced in 2019 and was regularly tested. Regarding the emergency exits, he said the building has a complex layout. “It has always been deemed compliant in the past.”

In 2021, Mr. Benamor pleaded guilty to tax evasion and was fined $136,180, according to a Canada Revenue Agency news release at the time. He had been accused of failing to report nearly half a million dollars in income.

Montreal police inspector David Shane said no one has been charged in connection with Thursday’s fire and that the cause remains under investigation.

In announcing Quebec’s plans for the new legislation on Monday, Tourism Minister Caroline Proulx said the law would require hosts to post their provincial registration number on their online listing. She also encouraged concerned citizens to denounce illegal Airbnbs to the provincial government. The Tourism Minister said she believed the province currently has “plenty” of inspectors investigating unlicensed short-term rentals, but did not rule out adding more, ahead of a meeting with Ms. Plante.

“Should we need to add more, we’re currently evaluating that and we haven’t said no to that,” said Ms. Proulx.

At a news conference in front of the burned-out three-storey building on Monday, the mayor accused San Francisco-based Airbnb of “washing its hands” of illegal rentals. The city confirmed that only 10 establishments in Old Montreal have permits. However, a quick search of Airbnb’s website on Monday afternoon showed hundreds of listings in the area.

Ms. Plante said she communicated with Nathan Rotman, Airbnb’s regional lead in Canada, and asked him to forbid rentals for people without a valid permit from Quebec’s Revenue Department, which oversees the short-term rental industry.

On Monday, Mr. Rotman said the company was providing support to those affected by the fire and assisting law enforcement. “We are also engaged with the mayor’s office,” he wrote in a statement.

With reports from Frédérik-Xavier Duhamel, Tu Thanh Ha and The Canadian Press

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