Montreal’s mayor vows to tighten regulations for Airbnb as the search continues for six people missing after a fire broke out in a building housing Airbnb units in a historic city section where they were banned.
Firefighters initially thought a person was missing in the blaze Thursday in the eastern Canadian city. However, reports later emerged of illegal Airbnb units in the over 130-year-old building, and authorities brought the number of missing over the weekend to seven, including some from the United States.
Montreal police reported that they pulled the body of a woman from the rubble on Sunday night.
The six still missing are from Quebec, Ontario and the United States, Montreal Police Inspector David Shin said, adding that investigators have contacted their families. The fire also injured nine people, including two who were taken to hospital.
The cause of the fire is being investigated.
Montreal Mayor Valerie Plante said the building houses illegal Airbnb units as well as an architect’s office. Plante said Airbnb should have required unit owners to provide a permit number from the Quebec provincial government.
Plante said she plans to work with the Quebec provincial government to tighten regulations for short-term rentals.
“Our hearts go out to the victims of this tragedy, and to their families and loved ones,” Nathan Rotman, Airbnb’s regional policy officer for Canada, said in an emailed statement. “We are offering our support to those affected, and are assisting law enforcement during their investigation. We are also engaged with the mayor’s office.”
Alexander Bergevin, attorney for the building’s owner – Emil Haim Ben’amor – said Sunday that Airbnb rentals in the building were not operated by his client but by tenants, adding that steps were being taken to stop the practice.
Firefighters will begin dismantling the second and third floors of the building on Monday, said Martin Guillebolt, the Montreal Fire Chief of Operations.
Shin said the police fire brigade used a drone to help locate the woman’s body, which was removed on Sunday.
“The assumption is that there are six other people inside,” Shin said. “The various steps we have taken (indicate) those people who are still most likely missing under the rubble, unfortunately.”
City officials said short-term Airbnb-style rentals are illegal in the Old Montreal neighborhood where the building is located. The city said the fire started at Édifice William-Watson-Ogilvie, built in 1890.
Bergevin said in a text message Sunday that the alarm system was replaced in 2019 and has been tested regularly.
Sheen said no one has been charged in connection with the fire and that the cause is still under investigation.
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