Years of multiple fire safety violations at Old Montreal fatal fire building: inspection report

"It could have been avoided," says Mazhar Khan, whose daughter, Saniya, died in the Old Montreal fire last month, among six others. Inspection reports revealed the building had years of fire safety code violations. Alyssia Rubertucci reports.

By News Staff

The site of the fatal Old Montreal fire last month that killed seven people was found to have violated multiple fire codes, according to documents revealed from an Access to Information request.

City inspection documents show between 2009 and 2018, the 14-unit building located at the corner of Place D’Youville and du Port St. had blocked and “dead-end” secondary exits on the second and third floors and a non-compliant fire alarm system.

“I think there was a sheer negligence on the part of so many agencies and that includes city administration and the fire department, Airbnb,” says Mazhar Khan.

His 32-year-old daughter, Saniya, a master’s student in public health from Detroit, was one of the victims. Many of whom, like Saniya and her friend Dania, were visitors staying in an Airbnb that was operating illegally. 

(Credit: Service de sécurité incendie de Montréal)

(Credit: Service de sécurité incendie de Montréal)

Early morning on March 16, a major fire broke out in the three-story building that housed apartments on the second and third floors and an architectural firm on the first.

A massive rescue operation was launched to save people from the burning building, and in the days that followed, recover the bodies of the people who couldn’t make it out.

They were:

  • Charlie Lacroix, 18
  • Walid Belkahla, 18
  • An Wu, 31
  • Friends Saniya Khan, 32, and Dania Zafar, 32,
  • Nathan Sears, 35
  • Camille Maheux, 76

“We got the body and we had a burial and but our suffering did not end there that was just the beginning,” said Khan.

Old Montreal Fire victims. From left to Right: (Top row) An Wu, Charlie Lacroix, Camille Maheux, Nathan Sears. (Bottom row) Dania Zafar, Walid Belkahla, Saniya Khan.


Previous visitors staying in the building raised safety concerns about some units, including an absence of emergency exits and a one-bedroom loft that had no windows.

The fire department provided more than 100 pages of records.

In 2011, the fire department filed a formal complaint with the government’s housing board, citing safety concerns surrounding renovations to a third-floor apartment leaving the fire escape inaccessible to other tenants.

“They completely blocked the exit, that’s a sheer violation,” Khan said.

In May 2018, a fire inspector found 10 violations during a visit to the building, including the lack of a working fire alarm, no clear signage for the emergency exits and a missing smoke detector in the stairway.

In 2019, a fire department report found an issue with the fire alarm. The inspection noted that the alarm needed to be loud enough so that it can be heard from inside the apartments – that the current system did not conform to this.

(Credit: Service de sécurité incendie de Montréal)

On a follow-up visit in November 2020, the issued hadn’t been fixed, according to the report. It’s not clear whether changes were made following this time.

“There should have been an order that until they fix the problems of inhabitability, they would have not been allowed to rent out the apartments,” Khan said. “They didn’t do it, they let it go.”

The documents do show that corrections were made over the years and that  Benamor also paid fines of $450 fine and $200.

“The consequences were very minor and they took it so easy, even if they just depended on issuing notices,” he said.

CityNews did not hear back from Benamor’s lawyer, Alexandre Bergevin, on the issue.

Old Montreal fire: the stories of seven victims

Of the seven people who lost their lives, six were staying in unlicensed short-term rentals.

The father of Nathan Sears has filed a request for a $22-million class-action lawsuit against Emile-Haim Benamor, the building’s owner. Several of his building’s units were being rented out illegally on Airbnb.


The lawsuit, still to be authorized, would include the family members of the occupants who perished in the fire and all those who were in the building that day.

At least 22 people were inside, and they all likely have family members who were also affected by the events, the lawsuit said.

“Being a Muslim, I believe everyone has a time to go and to come, but there are some human factors, errors which would have made a difference,” said Khan.

The Quebec coroner’s office has launched an investigation of the fire and the City of Montreal said they won’t comment on this in light of the inquest.

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