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Icebox landlord feels the heat

Lauren McKeon
Northern News Services
Published Wednesday, December 17, 2008

SOMBA K'E/YELLOWKNIFE - Health officers have ordered an the owner of Ptarmigan Apartments to turn the heat back on after discovering boilers heating the building were either turned off or set very low.

While officials with the Stanton Territorial Health Authority were unable to confirm exactly how long the building had gone without boiler power, one thing was clear: it was chilly.

"The heat was turned down significantly, it got very cold there," said Duane Fleming, chief environmental health officer.

And it had likely been cold for a while.

Yellowknifer reported Dec. 3 that Ptarmigan Apartments resident Jessica Chaykowski's heat stopped working for 14 days in late November.

When her apartment turned into an ice box again early last week, Chaykowski discovered she was not alone.

"A few days later there was a whole bunch of people in the lobby ... we came to find out the majority of the building had no heat for just over a week," she said.

"I use three blankets and it's still cold," said a fourth-floor resident, who asked her name be withheld.

"My heat is on one day; (then) one day it's off," added a second-floor tenant, who said by day her apartment is cold, but by night it warms up a bit. When she woke up Thursday morning, however, she was freezing.

Another fourth floor tenant called the apartment maintenance staff "absolutely useless" and said the complex was beginning to look like a "crack den."

In the conversation that followed between News/North and the group of tenants, many said they thought their pipes were frozen as a result of the freeze-out because their water wouldn't turn on.

If the temperatures recorded during the investigation are anything to go on, it's likely a fair guess.

"The temperatures that were recorded were 0 degrees (Celsius) in the hallway and about 14 (degrees Celsius) in the apartments," said Fleming.

He said the majority of the building's boilers were either turned low, or turned off, presumably, according to Fleming, because the building's manager was trying to fix them.

"They were actually being worked on," said Fleming, pausing before adding: "But not very successfully by the manager."

Chaykowski has heard a different story.

"They're probably having trouble paying (for heating oil)," she said, adding she was lead to believe such by the environmental health officer who completed the investigation.

While Yellowknife Apartments manages the four-storey building and rents out the units, the complex is owned by Edmonton-based Bond Street Properties, which also owns the long-unfinished Bayview Estates property in the Niven Lake subdivision.

Representatives from Bond Street did not return calls for comment before press time.

When contacted, Yellowknife property manager Aleem Shiv said, "I can't make any comments at this time."

Either way, on Wednesday the heat was turned back on, or fixed, after environmental health officers issued an order to have it reinstated at once.

"This is a severe case, if there's no - or very little - heat at this time of the year. So we reacted immediately," said Fleming.

Chaykowski, he added, "is justified to be angry, but we've addressed it as well as we can."

On Dec. 9 and 10, when the building was investigated, temperatures outside the building reached as low as -40 C.

While health officers can ensure heat is turned back on, they cannot order tenants be compensated for rent paid toward heat.

For that, Chaykowski has filed an application with Hal Logsdon, rental officer for the territory, under the NWT Residential Tenancy Act.

She will have a hearing to determine if, and what, she'll be compensated for going without heat.

Logsdon said while Chaykowski is the only Ptarmigan tenant to file an application so far, all tenants are invited to do so.

"I'm surprised more tenants have not made applications," he said.

"There's still time left," he added.

Logsdon also said under the act it didn't matter much whether the boilers were turned off because there was no money to run them or because they were being fixed.

"The act is pretty straightforward when it comes to the landlord's obligation to provide vital services," he said.

"It says no landlord shall until the date the tenant vacates or abandons the rental premises withhold or cause to be withheld the reasonable supply of a vital service," Logsdon added.

"So whether or not the landlord went and shut off the boilers because he didn't want to pay for the fuel or the boilers broke down, it really doesn't make an awful lot of difference."

In either case, he said, the landlord is required to address the situation.