Resident in fire-damaged tower caught off-guard by letter saying leave 'immediately'

Some tenants living in a Winnipeg apartment high-rise that caught fire earlier this month have been told to leave their apartments immediately.

Residential Tenancies Act says leases can be terminated after fire or flood

Carl O'Brien said the letter telling him to leave immediately caught him off guard. (Cliff Simpson/CBC)

Some tenants living in a Winnipeg apartment high-rise that caught fire earlier this month have been told to leave their apartments immediately.

In a letter sent to residents living on several floors in Evergreen Place Friday, tenants were told to leave immediately and move their belongings as soon as possible.

The letter caught some tenants off guard who are now scrambling to look for a new place to live.

"Some people are shocked, they're in a daze, they're outraged by this," said Carl O'Brien, a lawyer who lives in the building, who's been asked to leave. In the letter signed by a manager with Shelter Canadian Properties, the company said architectural and electrical contractors have deemed certain units in the building unsafe to live in.

It tells tenants to leave immediately and said discounted rooms are available for rent at a Holiday Inn for $109 per night. "I don't appreciate the tone of the letter at all," said O'Brien.

Smoke can be seen pouring from a unit on the 20th floor of the apartment tower at 7 Evergreen Place on Saturday. (Katie Nicholson/CBC)

A fire in the high-rise and water main rupture left extensive damage to several floors of the building on Sept. 2, but many residents have still been living in the tower on damaged floors. In O'Brien's apartment, crews cut out parts of his carpet, which were ruined after sprinklers sprayed his home.

He said his belongings were fine and didn't leave Friday. He's now in contact with his insurance company about finding a temporary new place to live, but in the meantime he plans to file a complaint with the province's Residential Tenancies Branch.

O'Brien feels Shelter Canadian should have contacted tenants about the move sooner. "That's the kind of information that should have been conveyed to each of us."

Resident Jean-Charles Brau echoed concerns about poor communication from the company, and he's contacted the Residential Tenancies Branch to complain.
Jean-Charles Brau said Shelter hasn't communicated with him despite multiple visits to the company's office. (Cliff Simpson/CBC)

He hasn't been asked to leave, but his suite was damaged by smoke from the fire and workers showed up unannounced to start repairs, he said.

Brau said he asked them to come back so he could pack up his belongings, but after days went by with no one coming back, he unpacked everything. "I have to live," he said.

Up to landlords to use best judgment 

The Residential Tenancies Act says when a rental unit is made uninhabitable after a fire of flood, a tenancy is considered terminated. But the act doesn't define what uninhabitable is.

The Professional Property Managers Association said it's up to landlords to use their best judgment when deciding if a suite is livable or not and the ball is in the landlord's park when it comes to deciding how much notice a tenant must be given.

"It's very difficult to say how much notice you have to give," said Avrom Charach, a spokesperson for the organization.

Charach said landlords are required to refund any rent paid for the period the tenant won't be able to live in a unit and renters are given first dibs on whether they want to move back once repairs are complete.

He said the fire is a good example of why the association wants it to be mandatory for renters to have tenants' insurance, which could cover the cost of a temporary place to stay and damage to belongings.

"Unfortunately we're not legally allowed to require it."

CBC News has reached out to Shelter Canadian for comment.
Some tenants living in a Winnipeg apartment high-rise that caught fire earlier this month have been told to leave their apartments immediately. 1:59

About the Author

Austin Grabish


​Austin Grabish is a reporter for CBC News in Winnipeg​ where he files for TV, web and radio. ​​Born and raised in Manitoba, Austin has had an itch for news since he was young. He landed his first byline when he was just 18. Before joining CBC, he reported for several outlets with work running across the country. He studied human rights in university and holds both a degree and diploma in communications.​ Connect with him here: