One of the first things that struck Joseph Brockman about the Airbnb where he was staying in Montreal were the windows — there were, in fact, none.
"I literally said to my friend, 'this is a freaking fire trap,'" he recalled.
Brockman and a friend spent a weekend in the small apartment in August 2022.
The apartment had a single exit, the front door, and the air conditioning unit pumped air into the building's hallway, he said.
"I thought it was maybe just the old — you know, the fact that it's a heritage building. But I was saying, like there's no way this place can be legal."
The owner of the building, Emile Benamor, has said through his lawyer that the building was up to code. The lawyer, Alexandre Bergevin, told CBC News that only one unit had no windows.
One of those people, 18-year-old Charlie Lacroix, had called 911 from inside the building as the fire raged, stuck in a unit with no windows.
She told police, "come and get us because there are no windows where we are, we can't get out and the fire is burning," according to her grandfather, Robert Lacas.
Both Fraum and Brockman said there were no emergency exit signs in the halls.
"I have to imagine everyone living there thought at some point, 'man, if there's a fire, I'm a goner,'" said Fraum, who uses the pronoun they.
"The building was so clearly back in time."
Fraum said they spoke with an official at the Ville-Marie borough to express their concern about a lack of smoke detectors in some units and other fire hazards, but was told the complaint could not be filed because they no longer lived there.
"I tried to raise the alarm and it wasn't heard," they said.
"I always had this sense that if someone looked into something, they would see everything."
The city of Montreal did not answer questions about how they conduct inspections or whether specific concerns had been flagged about this building.
A spokesperson said CBC could file an access-to-information request.
The building is listed as having 15 units and a number of those were rented out full time as Airbnbs, which are illegal in Old Montreal.
Bergevin blamed the Airbnb operation on a tenant, Tariq Hasan, and said Benamor tried to put an end to the practice.
But three people familiar with the situation, including Fraum, say Benamor was aware of the Airbnbs and wasn't trying to stop them from being rented out.
"They existed and they weren't a secret," Fraum said.
Hasan declined to comment when reached by phone earlier this week. He later referred CBC News to a lawyer, who declined to answer questions on his behalf.
Airbnb did not respond to specific questions about whether it had received complaints about the places for rent at 135 Du Port Ave.
Paul Duey, a Montreal building inspector, reviewed photos of the apartment where Brockman stayed in Old Montreal
He said the lack of windows and exposed wiring were both red flags.
He added: "I've done thousands and thousands of inspections and I've never seen a unit in an apartment [building] without a window, so that is definitely odd in itself."
Another person who was staying in the building on the night of the fire said she managed to escape by breaking a window.