Manitoba

Used needles, condoms and no heat: Residents say problems in Winnipeg block make it 'a nightmare'

Residents of a West Broadway apartment building say they are tired of living without proper heat and fire extinguishers, and with constant noise coming from squatters who shoot drugs in the building’s hallways.

Owner says spike in meth use making it hard to be a landlord, but he's working to fix problems

Marilyn Alexiou has lived at 212 Langside for the last three years. (Tyson Koschik/CBC)

Residents of a West Broadway apartment building say they are tired of living without proper heat and fire extinguishers, and with constant noise coming from squatters who shoot drugs in the building's hallways.

"It's a nightmare living here," said Marilyn Alexiou, who has lived in the building at 212 Langside St. for the last three years.

The 63-year-old calls the current situation unfortunate because it's deteriorated since she first moved in after being laid off from her job. While the building wasn't perfect at that point, she said, it was in good shape and didn't have the myriad problems it does today, which she says are caused in large part by meth users.

When CBC News visited the building Friday morning, the front door had no working lock, mailboxes had been broken into and a used needle was on the ground in a hallway.

There was also a condom among trash on the floor in the basement, in a spot where residents say squatters inject meth. Outside a side door to a mini courtyard were several more used needles in the snow.

Renae Ponicappo moved into the building last July. She said she's scared for the safety of her kids when they come to visit her. (Tyson Koschik/CBC)

"What happens if I brought my kids back there and one of them picked it up and did something with it?" asked resident Renae Ponicappo, who has four children who come for visits.

She told CBC News she slept Thursday night with a jacket because the heat was not working in her suite. Her basement-level apartment was frigid on Friday morning, and cold air continued to blow in from a broken side door that has been boarded up.

Ponicappo said drug users kick at her doors during the middle of the night. She said for the $700 a month she pays for her one-bedroom suite, she expects better.

"I don't even let my kids out in the hallway. I won't even let my cat in the hallway. That's how bad it is."

No fire extinguishers

Multiple residents in the building told CBC one suite causes problems regularly, with meth users coming and going throughout the night to get supply.

Alexiou said last year, a tenant lit clothes on fire in the hallway and neighbours had to extinguish the fire themselves.

She's now terrified the building will go up in flames, because there have been no fire extinguishers in the hallways for the past three months, she said.

"I go around with my passport and my dog, health records and everything in my purse. It's just not a good way to live, really, and there's easy ways [the property owner] could avoid it. They just don't care."

Residents say needles are often littered in the building's hallways by injection drug users. They say one suite in the building is of particular concern, as drug users come at odd hours to get supply. (Tyson Koschik/CBC)

The residents say their complaints by phone and email to Armour Property Management, which manages the building, have fallen on deaf ears.

Trying to remove problem tenants, owner says

The company said Friday it does not own the building and isn't responsible for its maintenance. The company referred CBC to Patrick Penner, who it identified as the owner.

In a phone interview, Penner said it's become increasingly difficult to be a landlord over the last 18 months, as meth use continues to rise in Winnipeg. 

He said he's trying to make improvements, including the addition of a live-in caretaker for the building, which it did not have until a few months ago.

As for the fire extinguishers, they have been stolen by meth addicts, he said, but he replaces them when that happens.

The front door hasn't been working, so the lock was recently replaced.

The lock on the front door of the building was broken when CBC visited the apartment block Friday morning, meaning people can simply walk into the building. (Tyson Koschik/CBC)

The heat problem is due to the fact that building is heated by a boiler system, said Penner.

"It's a typical boiler. Third floor you're boiling hot, basement, it's not as not as warm as the third floor. It's just a boiler system — that's the way they are."

He said Ponicappo could get a different heat system if she called in a complaint.

Needles in the building's hallway were coming from a particular tenant who is no longer living in the building, he said.

But CBC pointed out there was a needle on Friday in the hallway outside the suite where residents say drugs are sold.

"I mean, that's meth use," Penner responded. "That's going on all the time.… We clean them up whenever we see them, try and do our best to keep them cleaned up, but … people just use the needles and just leave them places."

Penner said he knows about one unit where there is high traffic, but he has no proof the tenant is dealing drugs so his hands are tied.

"I've heard that that suite is busy and we're trying to get them to stop being busy, and trying to get them out."

14 police calls in 2018

Winnipeg police said they were called to the building Friday morning to deal with the broken mailboxes — the fourth time they've been called to the building this year. Police said they were called to 212 Langside a total of 14 times last year.

The calls are for a number of issues including disputes, damage to property, child welfare concerns, court violations, break-ins and theft.

One call fell under the police's "porn/drugs/gaming" category, but the service couldn't immediately provide more information about that call.

The building's owner says he works to quickly resolve tenant complaints when they are made. He said it's become difficult to be a landlord over the last 18 months, as meth use has increased in Winnipeg. (Tyson Koschik/CBC)

There were also five complaints about the building made to the City of WInnipeg in 2018 and all violations were corrected, a city spokesperson said.

Fire inspectors issued a violation notice on Tuesday to the building for missing fire extinguishers and the building's owner has been given until Jan. 29 to comply, the city spokesperson said.

A provincial spokesperson said landlords are responsible for ensuring their properties have essential services such as heat, gas, electricity, hot and cold water, and other utilities, and landlords cannot interfere with these services.

If a tenant has no heat, the spokesperson said they should call 311 and make a report to the City of Winnipeg, which enforces livability standards.

Residents of a West Broadway apartment building say they are tired of living without proper heat and fire extinguishers, and with constant noise coming from squatters who shoot drugs in the building's hallways. 2:39

About the Author

​Austin Grabish started reporting when he was young, landing his first byline when he was just 18. He joined CBC in 2016 after freelancing for several outlets. ​​In 2018, he was part of a team of CBC journalists who won the Ron Laidlaw Award for the corporation's extensive digital coverage on asylum seekers crossing into Canada. Email: austin.grabish@cbc.ca

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