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White Rock building managers in hot water over frozen tenants

Cold snap exposes deficiencies in backup plans for heating failures
Eastbound traffic navigates White Rock’s Marine Drive during Wednesday’s (Jan. 17, 2023) snowfall. During the cold snap, residents of a White Rock apartment building were completely without heat. (Norman Orr photo)

Surrey-White Rock MLA Trevor Halford is vowing to turn up the heat on building managers who neglect heating problems that impact residents during cold snaps like the one experienced last week.

He said Monday he will have “zero tolerance, going forward,”’ for apartment property managers, and owners, who do not respond to residents’ heating woes, particularly when it comes to senior tenants.

And – mindful of ongoing situations at several apartment buildings – he served notice on managers and owners that he will be “personally involved” in any incident in which tenants are left without heat during the winter.

The BC United MLA had vowed the previous Friday (Jan. 19) not to leave residents of the Fir Haus Apartments in White Rock – most of them seniors – “spending another night without heat.”

Halford said a number of residents had spent more than a week freezing without central heating during one of the coldest spells in recent memory – a situation only compounded by heavy snowfall and icy rain between Tuesday, Jan. 16 and Thursday, Jan. 18.

READ ALSO: White Rock MLA vows not to leave senior tenants in the cold

According to a statement from building owners and managers Rockwell Management, issued Saturday, heat had been restored in the building by 5 p.m. Friday.

They also offered apologies to tenants for what they said was an “unforeseen” problem with the building’s boiler, and promised to buy space heaters for each of the building units in case of future “heating failures.”

Halford said he and office staff had been checking on the tenants over the weekend.

“Progress has been made, although there are still some issues, and all residents now have access to heat,” he said.

“But it should never have gotten to this point. I want to make sure that people are treated with more respect than (the Fir Haus residents) have been, over the last nine days.”

He said that some of the tenants – many of whom are in their 80s and 90s – had been pleading for haste in fixing the building’s heating system and had resorted to the unsafe practice of leaving their ovens on to help warm their suites.

His office had been making sure the residents have access to heaters and blankets, he added.

“If it wasn’t for one very elderly lady who braved the elements and came to my office, no-one might have known about this.”

Since being alerted to the problem, Halford had notified both the White Rock RCMP and White Rock Fire and Rescue, he said, who responded by sending officers to the apartments to assess the situation. He also notified the Residential Tenancy Branch of the situation, he added.

Building resident James Cameron, 68, said he and other tenants had been telephoning the building manager from the time they first noticed the heating wasn’t working properly, the preceding Friday (Jan. 12).

“All we could get was a run-around,” he said, noting that since the building changed ownership some years ago, there has not been a building supervisor on-site, and that tenants have to phone a Vancouver office to voice concerns.

He said he wasn’t as badly off as some of the older tenants, some of whom have been in the building as long as 14 years, because his sister bought him a space heater three days after the heat went down.

But like others, he also turned on his oven to help keep the apartment warm, he said.

“Then, when the fire chief turned up, he told us that we shouldn’t do that – that it was a fire hazard,” he said.

“But I know a lot of the older people were using their ovens.”

Cameron said that it was after 8 p.m. on Friday that contractors hired by management arrived at his door with a space heater, and started working on his radiator – and not until Monday that they changed out his thermostat and the apartment heat started working properly.

Halford said his office is continuing to monitor the situation.

“I told (Rockwell) that, in my view, this was completely unacceptable. It shouldn’t have taken more than a week to get this rectified,” Halford said, noting that media attention had spurred attention to the problem.

“Things definitely changed, once we became involved,” he said.

“But I’m disappointed that this happened in the first place – at the end of the day people need to be treated with respect.”

Rockwell’s statement provided a timeline in which heat had to be turned off in two apartments due to a leak in a hot water pipe early in the week, after which it was discovered that there was a problem with the building’s boiler.

Due to the snowfall, plumbers were not able to be on site until Thursday, but some 12 out of 58 apartments had little to no heat, and space heaters were available for only some of them, the company said.

Heat ultimately had to be turned off for the entire building on Friday so that the problem could be fixed safely, the statement added.

“We maintain our buildings well and some issues are unforeseen, as we saw this week,” the statement noted.

”While we responded with urgency to what was within our control, we could have done more,” it added acknowledging that the building’s tenants are “a vulnerable group due to their age.”

“We never want our tenants to experience the kind of adverse impacts they endured this week during a cold snap.“

About the Author: Alex Browne

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