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Welcome to Hotel Fattal

Posted by Mike G. / May 20, 2013

fattal_1.JPGSam Fattal, a controversial Montreal landlord with a long history of run-ins with the city of Westmount, has been branded a "vexatious litigant" by the Quebec Superior Court, according to a judgment issued last month. The ruling prohibits Fattal from suing the city of Westmount or its employees without the prior approval of a Quebec judge.

Fattal owns properties in St-Henri and Rosemont, including the famed "Fattal lofts" on rue St-Rémi, an abode of marginalized youths, starving artists, and crust punks. Fattal's disputes with Westmount started in 1998 and revolve around a former technical college at 3035 rue St-Antoine Ouest that Fattal converted into residential apartments.

I biked past late Friday night, on the way home. The building was surrounded by wire fencing, with scaffolding and a cherry picker set up in front. The brick beneath the façade was exposed. Immediately behind the fencing, at the foot of the cherry picker, three dudes were watching the CBC news on a projector screen and mourning the Senators' loss. One of them greeted me, and I explained my purpose.

"Are you here because of that Reddit thing?," he asked. His face brightened as I mentioned the print-out of the court document in my backpack. "Come on over, man. Grab a beer!"

This was Alex, a 27-year-old aspiring yuppster ("Three years from now I want my own condo"), who, by virtue of holding down a steady, career-track job, is something of a hub among this self-styled community. As he put it, mostly slackers on service-wage jobs who play in bands, party, or drink a lot. The fencing in front of the building was put up more than a year ago, he said, after a brick fell off the façade. The scaffolding and rest of the equipment appeared earlier this spring, but work has been stalled for weeks.

Alex snatched the paper from my hands and began regaling a nearby sidewalk party — an after-party for a show at the Corona Theatre, informed me a vintage Expo67 cap-wearer — with its choicest bits. Other residents had their own Fattal stories to share. (On his visits, I was told by more than one, Fattal sometimes baits residents and passers-by with a $10 bill tied to a string.)

I was given a tour of the place and offered a sublet of a volume of space enclosed by plywood walls with no windows, for $425 a month.


fattal_2.JPGIn 1998, building inspectors cited Fattal for a lack of sprinklers and emergency lighting. It took five years for the issues to be addressed and for Fattal to be issued an occupancy permit.
fattal_3.JPGThe inside of one of the units, which opens directly into the street.
fattal_5.JPGA hallway inside 3035 O. rue St-Antoine; one of the doors leads to an exotic dancing school
fatal_x.JPGYour "reporter," smoking a shitty cigarette. FOR THE STORY!
fattal_6.JPGA DYI arcade machine, built around a 160-pound 32" Sony Trinitron television set


Sam Fattal's card

According to the court document, Fattal's run-ins with the city of Westmount started in 1998, after purchasing a former technical college and starting to convert it into rental properties "without applying for a building or occupancy permit." City inspectors issued a notice to vacate the building and then a notice to stop work; these were ignored. In September that year, Westmount got a court order preventing Fattal from renting out additional units.

This set in motion a whole sequence of events. In Oct. 1998, Fattal wrote a letter to Westmount's director of urban planning. According to the court document:

  • He called upon Ms. Poirier to "cancel" the September court injunction and accused her of "malicious, painful and abusive activities" that wasted taxpayers' money. Mr. Fattal stated that it was time for Ms. Poirier to end her "Gestapo style" behaviour. In the top corner of his letter, Mr. Fattal reproduced a Second World War photo of a Nazi officer, with his boot over the neck of a prostrate concentration camp prisoner. In the background, several other prisoners in striped uniforms hung from posts. Mr. Fattal signed his letter to Ms. Poirier, "Your Hostage."
  • A further incident in the autumn of 1998 alarmed Westmount's building inspectors. One day, Westmount's employee, Mr. Michel Poulin, was performing an electrical inspection at the Saint Antoine building. Mr. Fattal suddenly appeared behind Mr. Poulin wearing a Saddam Hussein mask and brandishing a baseball bat.
  • Mr. Fattal began sending lengthy fax transmissions to Westmount City Hall and to all its administrative departments, including the public works department and the library.
  • Between 1999 and 2007, he faxed hundreds of pages of correspondence and photos to the City of Westmount and its employees. At times, the fax transmissions were so lengthy that they chocked the City's fax machines and disrupted its communications. On a number of occasions, Mr. Fattal faxed gruesome photos of himself, bare-chested and gagging. One photo showed a tortured Mr. Fattal with bulging eyes, and an iron bar across his mouth.

In 2005, Fattal entered the internet age: he set up a website. He also started suing city of Westmount employees in Small Claims Court, mailing documents to their homes, and paying them follow-up visits. And he reported Westmount's lawyer to the Quebec Bar. Again, from the document:

  • After a particularly intense fax barrage in late 2007, Westmount's patience finally ran out. The City's lawyers filed the present action and obtained a safeguard order prohibiting Mr. Fattal from having direct contact with the municipality or its employees.
  • In 2011, Mr. Fattal got an iPhone and discovered text messaging. Over the next two years two years ... Mr. Fattal sent hundreds of text messages to [Westmount's lawyer] at all times of day and night, on weekends and holidays, including New Year's Eve.

In declaring Fattal a "vexatious ligitant" Quebec's Superior Court noted his unsubstantiated claims of discrimination, his abuse of subpoenas against Westmount employees, his filing of lawsuits abandoned at the last minute, and the fact that "for the most part, Mr. Fattal has represented himself in court. Although he owns several revenue properties and lives near the summit of Westmount, Mr. Fattal claims, unconvincingly, that he cannot afford to hire a lawyer."

Little is likely to change. As the CBC and La Presse reports into other Fattal-owned properties have shown, inspectors and city officials in other boroughs where Fattal owns properties can do little, short of declaring particular units un-livable. They know exactly who and what they're up against.

Residents at 3035 St-Antoine seemed similarly blasé, probably for as long as they can keep doing their own thing. Last summer, they found that the wire fencing around the building was the perfect height for badminton, or "relax-minton" as it was called. With idle construction equipment now littering the front, they'll need a different pass-time. (The cherry picker won't start — apparently that has already been tried.)



Kay O. Sweaver / May 20, 2013 at 07:25 pm
I lived in one of the Fattal buildings on St-Remi for almost two years. It was one of my favourite apartments that I've ever lived in. The price was cheap, I had tons of space and nobody ever complained whether I was having a party, doing woodworking or having a circus/poutine party in the courtyard.

Much as yuppies hate to admit it many of their favourite artists, musicians, designers and other entrepreneurs get their start living in places like this. Without them we wouldn't have the opportunity to experiment, work and live without people getting all NIMBY on our backs.
Ally / April 25, 2014 at 11:46 am
I lived in Mr Fattals St Remi lofts and I loved them too. They had their share of issues but honestly, in a regular place of dwelling I was bother 100 times more by my neighbours and landlord than I ever was here. Kudos Fattal!
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GenYO!#703 / September 4, 2015 at 04:54 pm
he's the most awesome landlord EVER! he got some style and personallity
its not for no reasons that a bunch of his tenants got his name tattoo! mostly the people that complains about him are people who dont lives in any of his buildings... in st henri atleast, we all love him... and its why every year there's the fattal fest in honnor of mr. fattal'S birthday

so close but so far of the truth....
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