Toronto Mayor John Tory announced Wednesday that city officials will be making a series of electrical inspections on aging apartment buildings to ensure residents’ safety and to persuade landlords to be more vigilant in maintaining their infrastructure, after two major incidents displaced thousands of tenants.
“This lack of preventative maintenance is unacceptable and it needs to stop. There’s simply too much safety risk involved,” he said, referring to recent serious electrical incidents that occurred at two high-rise apartments in the city’s downtown St. James Town neighbourhood.
Last August, a basement fire at 650 Parliament St. left around 1,500 residents homeless, and the building is still vacant while repairs continue. Another incident last month left hundreds at 260 Wellesley St. East without power for three days when its electrical room flooded after a pipe burst. Last week, the city conducted an electrical inspection at a third building, at 280 Wellesley St. East, to ensure its aging infrastructure wouldn’t pose a threat to residents.
“It took them over two hours to even begin the inspection because some of the equipment hadn’t been maintained in many, many years,” Mr. Tory said. “As the city continues to experience more vertical growth and more density, we need even more complete plans to deal with these incidents, which we have seen take a huge toll … on residents and on the city’s resources.”
Mr. Tory said the inspections would be carried out by the Electrical Safety Authority, Toronto Fire Services and city bylaw officers, and it would be the first time all agencies would be working collaboratively to inspect buildings on such a large scale.
The process of prioritizing which buildings will be inspected will “probably take us through the rest of the winter,” after which the city would start the inspections “as soon as possible,” Mr. Tory said.
Toronto Fire Services conducts inspections of all high-rise apartments each year, through the city-run RentSafeTO bylaw-enforcement program, to ensure property managers abide by building maintenance standards; however they don’t always cover each building’s electrical system.
The city website says that if landowners are found not to have complied with the maintenance codes, bylaw officers can “[issue] orders and court charges, which can result in substantial fines.”
“We care about the safety of our tenants. It’s our No. 1 priority” said Steven Weinrieb, the director of maintenance at Park Property Management, a company that owns more than 60 aging apartment buildings in Toronto and is not connected to 650 Parliament St., 260 Wellesley St. East or 280 Wellesley St. East.
“I feel bad that [the city] doesn’t seem to trust us,” he said, adding that he feels the city’s response is a “knee-jerk reaction” to “a few [landlords] who want to save money and don’t understand that electricity has to be respected and maintained.”
Councillor Kristyn Wong-Tam said the previous maintenance issues at highrises in St. James Town have been unacceptable. “This has been a very trying time for the people of St. James Town,” she said, noting that many residents in the neighbourhood who have been unaffected are still worried about their future living conditions.
Danny Roth, the media spokesman for Wellesley Parliament Square Management, the third-party management company in charge of five apartment buildings in St. James Town – including 650 Parliament St., 260 Wellesley St. East and 280 Wellesley St. East – declined to comment on the city’s new series of inspections. He said the property managers are “co-operating with the city, and are focused solely on ensuring the buildings are safe, enjoyable and wonderful places to live.”
Ms. Wong-Tam explained that through correspondence with Mr. Roth, she learned that the 100 or so families who spent months living in hotels after having been evacuated from 650 Parliament St., have now all been offered proper housing by the property manager, as of last month. A group of tenants is now forming a tenant association to address outstanding issues, with the help of the St. James Town community centre and other stakeholders.
Mr. Tory said he hopes the city’s inspection efforts will encourage landlords to “act pro-actively now.”
“[They shouldn’t] wait around for the day when their building gets inspected … and they’ve done nothing to put it into a state of good repair.”