CityHousing Hamilton is tightening its inspection policies after 19 animals and a three-year-old boy, living with his mother and grandmother, were removed from a home where they had been living in squalor.

The unit was supposed to be inspected last fall but the inspector did not enter the neglected two-storey home near Parkdale Avenue North and Melvin Avenue because of a barking dog. Inspectors won't go into homes if there is an animal such as a dog.

The agency never tried again to inspect the unit that CAS now describes as unfit for human residency.

That's because the affordable housing agency has had no process for following up if a planned inspection fails, which can leave hundreds of units uninspected in a year. 

The CCH maintains approximately 7,035 affordable housing units which are supposed to be inspected annually. In 2013, 297 units were not inspected. CCH policy is to give a tenant 24 hours notice before visiting a home.

"The CityHousing inspector chose not the enter and the unfortunate part, the part were fixing now, is that they didn't plan to go back..." CCH President Brian McHattie​ told CBC Hamilton.  "There was no follow up so we've changed the policy or made it clearer that if for some reason a person can't access the facility....that we ensure that we visit again in the next week or so as a follow up."

The CCH has now enacted changes at the administrative level that would require an inspector to revisit a unit but the course of action is unclear if they cannot gain access on the return visit.

Complaint filed weeks earlier

Last Wednesday police, the Hamilton/Burlington SPCA and Children's Aid Society of Hamilton attended the home and a boy was taken away with flea bites.

And according to CAS director  Dominic Verticchio the two adults from the home were hospitalized. He was not able to say what their conditions are.

Ward 4 Councillor Sam Merulla said neighbours on the street filed a complaint with CityHousing Hamilton a couple weeks prior but no formal investigation was initiated.

'I think this is a very tough case for our protection team as it was for all of the investigating agencies.' - HBSPCA CEO Marion Emo

"Apparently they were bringing their complaints to CityHousing. CityHousing wasn't as responsive, and once I got a hold of it everybody was responsive and we took care of it quite diligently," Merulla said. "I would like to see this never happen again, so inspections need to be annual and they should be completed, and there's no excuse for anything short of that."

The last time the now-deserted home was inspected was in August 2012 by the Electrical Safety Authority.

City spokesperson Michael Kirkopolous said in the event of a complaint about a CCH unit, the policy would be to rectify the issue soon thereafter.

"If something is noticed on the outside of a building,  or where there is a concern from the exterior we issue a compliance notice and follow up seven days later to ensure the tenants have rectified the issue," Kirkopolous said.

Animals euthanized 

During an inspection, CCH policy is that a property manager use a master key to enter a unit if the tenant is not home. 

Kirkopoulos said tenants are able to refuse entry if they're home and staff would not enter a residence if an animal is living in the unit.

"The reason being, we have had a number of incidents were property managers have had near misses and or have been bitten by dogs," Kirkopolous said.

Hamilton-Burlington SPCA dog

Zoey was among 19 animals, some dead, taken from an east end home last week. The Terrier mix was recently adopted by the Hamilton-Burlington SPCA. (Hamilton-Burlington SPCA)

HBSPCA CEO Marion Emo said a total of 14 cats, four dogs and one bird were removed from the home after police were alerted about a foul smell.

Of the animals removed from the home only three dogs are still alive after the other animals were euthanized because of bad health.

Emo described the dogs as being "flea ridden and covered in filth" when they were removed from the home.

"I think this is a very tough case for our protection team as it was for all of the investigating agencies," she said. "One of the dogs was very elderly, number of chronic conditions and overweight.

"Many of the cats were suffering from feline leukemia virus," she said.

CAS investigation ongoing

CAS Executive Director Dominic Verticchio described the boy as a "typical three-year-old" and "he's in our care and doing well." Because of the involvement of CAS, the toddler cannot be identified, and some details that might identify him cannot be published.

Verticchio said the boy is in a foster home and there were no immediate plans for family visitations because his mother and grandmother remained in hospital as of yesterday. 

Asked if the family has any recourse for taking back custody of the boy, Verticchio said the family would require legal counsel and there was still information to be gathered as part of the investigation.

"I think it's too early to say what the next steps are going to be - at this point he's in our care," he said.

Emo said two of the three surviving dogs, a Siberian husky and a Terrior mix, were "remarkably pretty healthy" and already adopted

The third dog, a Labrador and Terrier/Poodle should be ready for adoption by next week.