Many of the 82 Mission residents displaced from an apartment fire on Oct. 19, say they feel left out in the cold by the former owners.
Since the fire – which took place at Richard’s Court on the corner of 12th Ave. and Horne Street – the building has come under new ownership, the renters have been locked out and some are concerned about the tenant insurance offered under the previous owners, according to numerous residents who spoke with The Record.
All of these issues are worsened by a lack of communication since the fire, the tenants say.
“[My grandmother] is sitting in a hotel and she doesn’t know who to call,” said Jenefer Tonks, speaking on behalf of her 87-year-old grandmother. “She’s sitting there very stuck, she’s beside herself.”
Northview Real Estate Investment Trust, the former owners, were acquired by their top shareholders Starlight Group Property Holdings and Kingsett Capital, on Nov. 2 for $4.8 billion. It was the biggest acquisition in Canadian history in the multi-residential sector.
But tenants say nobody from Northview told them about the upcoming change.
Kim Hawkins, who lives on the third floor, said she was given an emergency-contact number for Northview to help her find temporary accommodations.
“I phoned it over five times, and not one person has ever got back to me,” Hawkins said. “This could have been prevented if Northview had taken care of their tenants and their building.”
Being locked out of their homes is one of the greatest frustrations among the residents. The fire severely damaged the top floor of the five-storey building, and caused extensive water damage from the fourth to second floors.
Although the wings of the structure were reportedly in good shape, asbestos was released and has contaminated the site.
Firefighters initially took residents up to gather essentials belongings after the fire, and Barclay Restorations, a third-party company hired by the owners, made several trips into the units to help tenants.
The building has been in lockdown ever since.
The company said they are waiting on documentation from environmental engineers to verify it’s safe to enter the building, as WorksafeBC stipulates.
A Facebook chatroom was created by Derek Henderson to share information to try and get answers. Henderson was staying in his friend’s apartment on the top floor at the time of the fire, and was the initial 911 caller.
He and several others even walked into the fire station and talked to the fire chief about their situation, after getting nowhere trying to communicate with the building’s manager.
Henderson said he’s been assured by the restoration company that testing is being done, and understands why residents cannot return due to the safety risk – but many are concerned their property will sustain further water damages from a large hole in the roof.
“[Barclays] were not going to tarp it off. Everyone just wanted to get their stuff before it started raining really hard, and now it’s a little too late for that,” Henderson said. “It’s wide open … It’s going to get wet, it’s going to get moldy.
“We’re also getting no updates other than me forcing them to tell me this information.”
Danny Roth, a communications representative for Starlight, said a new management team is settling in and trying to communicate accurate information as fast as they can. He added the restoration company has been tasked with responding in the meantime.
“The timing of this is tough,” Roth said. “Sometimes the situation doesn’t change from day to day, sometimes it changes from hour to hour … We are trying to balance the desire to communicate with responsibility to make sure that what we are providing is accurate.”
He said no rent will be collected for November, and they are in the process of returning a proportion of October’s rent.
Approximately a year before the fire, the tenants said the managers under Northview encouraged them to sign up for a $10-a-month insurance policy, which would be added on top of their rent payments.
The policy would pay out up to $10,000 in personal-property losses, provide $2,500 in living expenses and has a $1,000 deductible.
“They pretty much forced [my grandmother] to take that insurance, she had other insurance and they said they needed all the people to be on that insurance,” Tonks said. “Ever since I told [the broker] she might be getting a lawyer they won’t answer her calls.”
Landlords offering a particular insurance policy is not a typical situation, as it opens them up for more liability, according to Rob Patterson, a legal advocate for the Tenant Resource and Advocacy Centre.
“Usually they just say, ‘Go find insurance and then show me proof that you paid for it,” Patterson said. “Say a landlord forgets to pay dues, or makes some other mistake in that process, they could be potentially liable.
“I don’t know why a building manager would want to get involved in that relationship.”
Roth said he cannot speak to any insurance policy offered under the previous owners.
The majority of the tenants The Record spoke with expressed dissatisfaction with how the building was maintained under previous management, and some claim it was not up to proper fire codes.