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Tenants without heat, hot water for weeks as landlord struggles with repairs at Toronto apartment building

Justin Cowen has been shivering inside his apartment for almost three weeks, boiling water to wash dishes and heading to the gym when he needs a shower. 

Cowen is one of dozens of residents in the 21-unit building in Toronto’s Church-Wellesley neighborhood who have been without heat and hot water since Dec. 19, when Enbridge shut off the gas due to serious safety concerns relating to the building’s steam boiler heating system.

A CBC reporter watched a City of Toronto bylaw officer measure a temperature of 11.6 C inside one apartment last week. The reading, which was far below what’s required by city bylaws, was taken when space heaters provided by the property manager weren’t running.

“It’s just been really hard,” said Cowen, a 27-year-old PhD student who’s lived in the building since May 2022.

A spokesperson for the building’s management said it is working to get the heat back on and estimated a repair should be completed in two weeks. In the meantime, the property manager has provided space heaters to all tenants. 

While the property manager says it has made efforts to maintain the building’s aging boiler system, the situation is exposing a bitter fight between building management and its tenants.

City hall surge in property complaints against building

The century-old heritage building was purchased for $7.5 million on March 1, 2023 by a numbered company, property records show. 

The building’s management structure is complex. 

The numbered company, 14792670 Canada Inc., owns the building and makes the calls on renovations and financing. A company called 30 Charles Management is in charge of managing projects at the building. Another company, Harrington Housing — which describes itself online as a “co-living provider” that uses its “tech-enabled leasing platform” to help landlords find tenants and students and young professionals find affordable rooms — is responsible for filling vacancies. 

Corporate records show a director of the numbered company is also a director of Harrington Housing. 

A mechanical room with machinery, boilers and an open black pipe with no cap.
A photo of the building’s boiler room taken on Dec. 14 appears to show an open gas line. (Submitted by Justin Cowen)

Cowen and two other tenants told CBC Toronto the lack of heat is just the latest problem plaguing their quality of life since the new owner purchased the building.

“Before March 2023, I really didn’t have any issues with the building,” said Cowen.

“Then the building was sold. Suddenly, the lights were off in the hallway, we were losing heat, laundry was breaking down. No one would pick up the phone if I had any maintenance issues and things just kept getting worse and worse.”

Complaints about the building have surged since the property was sold.

The city received only one request for service at the building between 2017 and January 2023, but it received 61 between March 1 and Dec. 31, 2023, spokesperson Asiia Danylova said in an email.

Twenty-three requests were about property standards and 22 were related to adequate heat, although 19 of those related to the same issue, Danylova said.

Cody Bell, who represents the building’s property manager, said the rise in complaints to the city, which had to do with the boiler, a broken basement window, ceiling repairs and a leak in the laundry room, among others, can be attributed to the “orchestrated actions” of “some tenants” against the new management.

“These problems did not start after March 2023 (new management), but were discovered after March 2023, and pre-existed for years,” Bell wrote in an email.

“Against all the odds, we take responsibility and are committed to addressing all these issues and getting fully compliant.”

Bell said he disagrees with the perception that the property manager is slow to respond to tenant complaints, saying its commitment is to address all tenant requests by the following day at the latest.

Inspector finds ‘serious safety hazards’

Resident Tanya Osmond said she raised concerns about work on the boilers to the landlord, as well as a number of officials including her MPP, the city’s RentSafeTO program and the Technical Standards and Safety Authority (TSSA) – the provincial agency that regulates fuel and boiler safety.

A TSSA inspector visited the building’s mechanical room on Dec. 19 and identified several “code non-compliances,” spokesperson Alexandra Campbell confirmed in an email to CBC Toronto.

“Some of the non-compliances were serious enough that TSSA called in the gas distributor (Enbridge) as the fuel supply needed to be turned off for safety reasons,” Campbell wrote. 

“We understand how difficult it is to have the gas turned off in winter and this action is only taken when serious safety hazards are found.”

Two pieces of paper taped to a door.
City of Toronto documents posted on the front door of the apartment detail two property standards violations for failing to provide every unit with hot water and heat. (Ryan Patrick Jones/CBC)

Enbridge Gas spokesperson Leanne McNaughton said in an email the company was called to the building by the TSSA because of “immediate hazards,” which included an “open gas line and a leak.”

CBC Toronto obtained a copy of the Enbridge document outlining more than 20 safety issues identified on Dec. 19, including an open vent that could cause a carbon monoxide spill.

“To ensure safety, a certified gas technician may shut off the natural gas until the equipment is repaired,” McNaughton said.

Campbell said the TSSA is still investigating “to understand what occurred prior to December 19,” including whether an unauthorized person did work on the boiler and gas system. 

Provincial regulations mandate that anyone working on boilers and other fuel-fired devices must be certified by the TSSA and be employed by a TSSA-registered contractor, Campbell said.

Boiler to be fixed within 2 weeks: property manager

Bell said none of the safety issues identified by the TSSA and Enbridge were mentioned in the building assessment report conducted before the March 2023 sale, nor were they reported by any of the licensed technicians it has hired to conduct upkeep and maintenance of the boilers.

Bell said many of the companies hired to inspect the boilers declined to repair them because they are old and no longer in production.

Bell said the property manager was planning to replace the boilers in summer 2024, but since the gas was shut off, its staff has worked over the holidays to contact more than a dozen technicians.

The property manager entered into an agreement on Dec. 29 with a boiler company to replace the boilers, Bell said.

“We are not only replacing the boilers, which is a very expensive and comprehensive solution, but we are also repairing the old boiler at almost $20,000 cost just to have the heat sooner (in two weeks),” Bell wrote.

“In other words, we are also repairing the old boiler, which will be disposed of in 8-9 weeks’ time for the sake of having heat sooner.”

City taking enforcement action

City of Toronto bylaws require landlords to provide a minimum air temperature of 21 C from Sept. 15 to June 1 and to maintain the supply of vital services, including hot and cold water. 

The city says it’s aware of the issues with heat at the building and is taking enforcement actions, including laying fines.

The city has issued seven “orders to comply” and two violation notices regarding property standards at the building since the new owner took over, and charged the owner three re-inspection fees.

“City staff are also on-site daily actively working with the landlord to resolve the heat issue and continues to engage with the residents,” city spokesperson Danylova said.

The property management company also offered tenants temporary housing in Etobicoke, rent relief for those who found their own temporary accommodation, or the option to terminate their lease in exchange for compensation. 

Bell said nine tenants have already been placed in alternative accommodations, and five or six tenants who were interested in alternative accommodation didn’t accept it because it was too far from downtown.

The property manager has since rescinded those options, Bell said.

Brian Houghton, a paralegal at Pro Bono Ontario, said landlords have an “immediate obligation” to address issues with essential services, including heat and water, by having someone attend the building, inspect the issue and take action to repair the problem.

However, in a situation where the issue can’t be immediately fixed, tenants could file an application seeking monetary compensation with Ontario’s Landlord and Tenant Board.

“The landlord will have to prove that they were taking reasonable steps in a timely manner, and the board will be left to decide whether they think those were appropriate or not,” Houghton said. 

“[The board] may base any sort of monetary claim or damages claim based on what steps that they actually took.”

The tenants who spoke with CBC Toronto said at this point they just want their landlord to provide them with heat and hot water.

WATCH | The potential consequences of an unaffordable Toronto:

tenants without heat hot water for weeks as landlord struggles with repairs at toronto apartment building

What happens if Toronto stays unaffordable

3 months ago

Duration 9:50

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