Scarborough High-Rise Tenants Fed Up

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By: Noaman G. Ali

“I’ve been living here for three years, and last night was the first time I’ve seen anyone come to fix the laundry room,” says a 33-year old resident of 3400 Eglinton Avenue East.

The laundry room in the basement of the Markham and Eglinton area building is full of washing machines and dryers, but several residents have complained about them never working properly, gobbling up people’s cash for no return. On hot summer days and especially in cold winter months, when the snow piles up outside the building and on the sidewalks, they have to carry their laundry nearly half a kilometre to a laundromat.

But the night before Monday October 19, someone finally came to take a look at the machines in the laundry room. That might have been because on Monday morning, the 16-storey building in Scarborough Village was being audited by officers of Municipal Licensing and Standards from the City of Toronto.

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Makeshift repair of padlock on door.

The building is in bad condition, both inside and outside. Residents frequently complain about an unresponsive management. Repairs and maintenance are rarely done in a timely manner. One couple became so tired of asking for repairs that they repainted and retiled the apartment themselves—“ Not because we wanted to but because we had to. We did it to protect our family—we have two kids.”

Another resident had a broken lock on his door, finally replacing it with a padlock he installed himself after waiting months for the building management to make the repair.

The most common complaint of all residents is the dirty carpet in all of the hallways, which is stained throughout and often smells. “When visitors come, they smell it and think it is coming from our homes,” one resident said. The carpet had not been changed, according to some residents, for over ten years.

After the municipal inspectors ruled that the carpets are not kept in a “clean and sanitary condition” management is in discussion about replacing the carpet. They began to experiment with replacing the carpet on the second floor—where the building superintendent lives, and have now removed the carpet on all of the floors of the building.

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A surveillance camera monitoring tenants movements in the building, surrounded by hastily repaired ceiling damaged by water leakage.

Leaks are very common in the building. On October 10, the ceiling of the 17th floor hallway was dripping water that we caught on video. When the superintendent was told about the leak, she simply denied it.On the 17th floor, residents say that leaks have led to mould growing in the carpet and floor.

On October 19, one resident showed BASICS her bathroom ceiling, which was caving in due to leaks from the unit above her. A few days later chunks of the ceiling and water actually fell on her, leaving a gaping hole in the ceiling. On November 6, a plumber finally came to “fix” the ceiling—but just seems to have papered over it poorly, with nothing done to actually fix the source of the leak. The area is damp to the touch with bubbles coming out of it. “I can still hear the water dripping,” the resident said. She continues to remain concerned about mould and mildew in the bathroom, a safety concern for her three-year old daughter.

The ceiling of this washroom collapsed on a tenant due to an unresolved issue with water damage from the unit above.

BASICS spoke to municipal officers who said that the state of disrepair in the building was not surprising. Dozens of apartment buildings throughout the city are in horrible condition because the owners simply treat them as a business from which they want to turn a profit.

Despite the municipal officer’s attempts, there was not much they could do about repairs inside units unless they directly received complaints from tenants. But there are many problems, and bringing up units to minimum standards did not mean that they were good standards. The minimum standards require the building to stick to the old code, and not the new one.

For example, the bathrooms in 3400 Eglinton Avenue East all have a passive ventilation system, good enough for the 1950s, but no longer standard—bathrooms now require fans to actively pump the damp air out. The old system not only does a poor job of pushing damp air out, it can even bring damp air in from outside and from other units. This leads to growing problems with mould and mildew.

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Many residents do not allow their children onto the balcony because they feel that it is unsafe.

The best and maybe only way that residents can bring about a change, according to the municipal officer we spoke to, is to build community among themselves. That means keeping an eye out for each other and for the building, and holding unresponsive building owners to account through collective action. Limiting actions to filing individual complaints will not push the management to respond. Only through collective action can we actually put pressure on the management and building owner to make the changes that are necessary for the building.