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Toronto Toronto officials conduct electrical inspection at Wellesley high-rise over fire concerns

Residents of the apartment building at 260 Wellesely St. East, were without utilities for several hours on Feb. 6, 2019 while Toronto city officials conducted an electrical inspection. 'It’s a nuisance, but I’m hoping it will help prevent what happened next door,' resident Kelly McLaughlin, said.

Fred Lum

Toronto city fire officials conducted an electrical inspection at a 50-year-old St. James Town high-rise Wednesday after two neighbouring buildings owned by Parwell Investments Inc. and Bleeman Holdings Inc. recently ran into serious electrical problems. The inspection at 280 Wellesley St. East. left tenants in the high-rise without power, water or heat for half a day.

“It’s a nuisance, but I’m hoping it will help prevent what happened next door,” said resident Kelly McLaughlin.

Last August, a basement fire at 650 Parliament St. left around 1,500 residents homeless, and prompted two class-action lawsuits against the property managers and Toronto Hydro for millions of dollars in damages and legal costs. The building is still vacant while repairs continue. Another incident last month left hundreds without power at 260 Wellesley St. when its electrical room flooded after a pipe burst.

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A statement from the city said these past incidents are what prompted Toronto Fire Services to issue the order after the Electrical Safety Authority advised Municipal Standards and Licensing of the potential fire risks at the property.

The city said it has an obligation to ensure that “building owners … keep their buildings well-maintained through compliance with the City’s Apartment Building Standards Program,” a bylaw-enforcement program that began in 2017 to ensure residents’ safety.

A city news release said that during the inspection, residents would be completely without power, water, heating or elevator service for “a minimum of 12 hours.” Residents were advised on Monday to prepare themselves by turning off all taps and electrical appliances, and to ensure they have enough water and non-perishable food for 24 hours.

Zach Beaudoin, who has lived at the high-rise for three years, said he finds it disconcerting that, after the previous disasters, the property managers hadn’t taken it upon themselves to conduct an inspection, especially at “a very tall building with [many] stairs and elderly people who have mobility issues.”

Danny Roth, the property company’s media spokesman, said the inspection order was an “extraordinary step” made by the city. “Before we had any kind of opportunity to announce any formal internal inspection, we received the [city] order … and had to stop everything we were planning,” he said.

Mr. Roth said the property managers at Wellesley Parliament Square “still intend to conduct thorough examinations of the electrical systems in their buildings,” and doesn’t see the problems faced by one property as related to the those of another.

“The reviews of these incidents have brought on a greater level of scrutiny of our properties [than necessary],” he said, adding that Toronto has “a tremendous portfolio of properties with a similar vintage” to those at Wellesley Parliament square.

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Mr. Beaudoin said that while he and his roommate would prefer to live somewhere that would make them feel safer, reasonably priced apartments in Toronto are difficult to come by.

“I live in a two-bedroom [apartment] that falls significantly under the average for what the city has,” he explained. “If something is really wrong and I need to move, where would I go that’s not going to charge 70 per cent of my wages for rent every month?”

Doug Sartell, the property manager, was unavailable for comment.

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