'Significant progress' made in Royal Edward Arms cleanup, health unit says

Public health officials in Thunder Bay, Ont., say conditions have substantially improved at a historic building being used as an apartment complex in the city's downtown south core.

Thunder Bay District Health Unit declared the historic building a public health hazard in September

The Thunder Bay District Health Unit says a notice posted on exterior doors of the Royal Edward Arms building will likely be removed soon. (Matt Prokopchuk / CBC)

Public health officials in Thunder Bay, Ont., say conditions have substantially improved at a historic building being used as an apartment complex in the city's downtown south core.

In September, 2017, the Thunder Bay District Health Unit issued a number of orders against the Royal Edward Arms property and its owner, Thunder Bay developer Ahsanul Habib and declared the building a public health hazard. At the time, inspectors found things like bedbugs, cockroaches, used needles, blood spatter, other bodily fluids and assorted debris.

"There's been significant progress since the orders that we issued on September 13," Lee Sieswerda, the health unit's manager of environmental health told CBC News. "In terms of progress, everything except for the pest control has been completed and has been reasonable now for a period of time."

The health unit has a "firm commitment" from a pest control company that extermination efforts will begin Friday; a public health notice posted at the building's entrances will likely be taken down "fairly soon," Sieswerda added.  The advisory was so people entering the building — like postal workers, emergency services personnel and other members of the public — were made aware of potential hazards.
The Thunder Bay District Health Unit says conditions have improved at the Royal Edward Arms building after a number of orders were issued against it in September. (Matt Prokopchuk / CBC)

The investigation into conditions at the Royal Edward Arms and the subsequent orders came about after a complaint by Thunder Bay police in September about the building's conditions.

While Sieswerda said inspectors have noted significant improvements, "it would have been nice if it was quicker, but you'll recall the building was in [a] very poor state." He credited the company hired to oversee and clean up the property with the work it has done.

In September, Habib acknowledged that he didn't have proper management in place for the property when he began to rent rooms to tenants in 2016.

"One of the biggest things that really turned the tide was ... having someone on-site for security purposes," Sieswerda continued. "The door to the Royal Edward Arms was wide open and so non-residents could just come and go as they pleased."

'A close eye'

Even with conditions at the Royal Edward Arms reportedly improving, Sieswerda said public health officials will "continue to keep a close eye on it," especially if there's any change in how the property is being managed.
Lee Sieswerda is the manager of environmental health for the Thunder Bay District Health Unit. (Thunder Bay District Health Unit)

"As long as [the management company is] still in place, it gives us some confidence that the building will be maintained in a reasonably safe condition," he said. "If they were to no longer be there, then of course we'd want ... to make sure that the building didn't regress again to the state that it was in before."

Sieswerda said the health unit didn't lay any charges against Habib after the cleanup orders were issued because "steady progress" was being made on the necessary work.

Habib purchased the Royal Edward Arms from the City of Thunder Bay in 2015 for $500,000 after it served for years as a social housing complex run by the district social services board.