Winnipeg landlords notice more crime in apartments

Landlords in Winnipeg say they have been seeing more suspected criminal activity in their apartment buildings in recent years.

Landlords in Winnipeg say they have been seeing more crime in their apartment buildings, including drug- and gang-related activities, in recent years.

But landlords find themselves caught between a rock and a hard place when they suspect criminal activity is happening in their properties, says Avrom Charach of the Professional Property Management Association, which represents most of Winnipeg's rental property managers.

"I've been noticing more and more suspected criminal activity — basically, drug activity — in properties: my properties, other people's properties around the city," Charach told CBC News on Wednesday.

"The problem is the difference between knowing you have a gang member on your premises and being able to prove it in a court of law, [which] can be very difficult," he added.

Court documents obtained by CBC News show that a $1-million fire that destroyed an apartment building at 577 Sherbrook St. earlier this month may have been set by street gang members in a dispute with their rivals.

Bail hearing held for teen

Emergency crews battled the apartment building fire at 577 Sherbrook St. on Jan. 14. About 50 people were left homeless as a result of the blaze. (CBC)

Earlier this week, a bail hearing was held in Winnipeg for a 16-year-old boy who was charged with arson in connection with the Jan. 14 blaze. Two men, aged 18 and 20, have also been charged.

The Crown prosecutor told the court during Tuesday's bail hearing that, according to police interviews with witnesses and the three accused, a member of the West Side Bloodz street gang was allegedly attacked and robbed by a member of the Mad Cowz gang near 577 Sherbrook St. earlier that morning.

The injured male retreated to a nearby apartment on Furby Street, then he and several of his fellow West Side Bloodz members allegedly armed themselves with hockey sticks and went back to the Sherbrook Street building, where the rival member lived.

Court heard that the young men entered a suite and trashed it. There were conflicting statements about how the fire actually began, but it was alleged that sheets may have been shoved into an oven and lit on fire.

The blaze destroyed the entire apartment building, sent 19 people to hospital and left about 50 people homeless.

The 16-year-old accused was denied bail.

'It just hurts'

While the case is still before the courts, the new allegations angered some of the tenants who lost their homes and everything they owned in the fire.

"It just hurts," said Jodi Mattson, who lost her pet lizard and all of her belongings.

"They destroyed everything for everybody. Can't describe the pain that everybody's going through because of it."

Marcella Yellowback, who had to be rescued by firefighters on ladders, said the blaze has traumatized her granddaughters, who were also rescued.

"That gets me mad because they terrified my children and it still affects them," Yellowback said. "Like, you know, they nearly killed us."

On Wednesday, the Salvation Army offered furniture and clothing donations for the victims of the Sherbrook Street fire.

Yellowback said while every little bit helps, it has still been difficult for her to cope with what happened.