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Union given more time for walkway

Miranda Scotland
Northern News Services
Published Wednesday, June 6, 2012

An NWT Supreme Court judge has given The Union of Northern Workers another 22 days to create a temporary walkway to allow tenants safe access to their apartment building from the street.

Friday's decision comes after a months-long dispute between the union and tenants of the union's building. NWT rental officer Hal Logsdon ruled May 3 that the union had 21 days to provide streetside access to the building - either through the main entrance or by opening up a walkway on the west side of the 52 Street building, which is blocked by a chain-link fence surrounding the union's parking lot.

Justice Shannon Smallwood is now giving the group until June 15.

Michele LeTourneau, one of the residents who fought for the walkway, said she is disappointed the judge gave the union more time. She said she isn't confident the union will use it to put the gate in.

"I've not been given any reason to feel that confidence," she said. "I'd like to be proven wrong."

The issue of the pathway came about after a fuel spill on a neighboring property cut off access to the east side of the building in March of last year.

LeTourneau said she has concerns about entering the building through the Aurora Tours lot next door or via the alleyway behind the building because drug dealers and homeless people frequent the area.

The rental officer's ruling states that if the UNW did not comply by May 24, LeTourneau and another tenant would be allowed to hire a contractor to install the gate. He also ruled that until the work was done, the two tenants would pay their rent to the NWT rental office. The UNW is appealing that decision in Supreme Court.

An appeal of an earlier rental officer decision, handed down Jan. 17, is also before the supreme court.

In the meantime, LeTourneau got a quote from a contractor for a secure gate for the property and was planning on having the work done since the union failed to complete the job in time. Now, she will once again have to wait and see if the UNW puts the gate in.

"I fear my power given to me by the rental officer ... has been stripped," LeTourneau said.

To add their frustration, tenants recently received notice that their rent is going up 10 per cent on Sept. 1. According to tenant Kathryn Carriere, the notice states a one-bedroom will now cost $1,200 a month; $1,408 for a two-bedroom; and $1,508 for a three-bedroom - all with utilities included.

The lawyer for the union said that the group has quotes for a new gate but would need until June 15 to have the work carried out.

Smallwood gave the UNW the extra time so that both parties weren't taking steps to have the same thing done, she said, adding that LeTourneau must pay her rent to the UNW during that period.

Last week, Frame Lake MLA Wendy Bisaro brought the tenants' issue and others to attention during question period at the legislative assembly.

Bisaro said the current process for settling disputes between landlords and tenants is unnecessarily expensive and inefficient.

"The rental officer needs to be given the power to enforce his decisions without people having to go to court," Bisaro said, adding that the tenants' case is a good example.

"I don't really understand why the union is doing this but it points out to me the time and money and resources that are being spent on a small issue ... I don't think we should be using our Supreme Court resources to deal with things like a dispute over a fence."

Bisaro and Yellowknife Centre MLA Robert Hawkins, who also spoke about the issue, requested that Justice Minister Glen Abernethy look into the problem. The minister said his department will review possible issues relating to the enforcement of orders under the Residential Tenancies Act. He expects a report by the fall.

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