Montreal·CBC Investigates

Extreme neglect: Aftermath of Roy St. fire leaves neighbours coping with squatters, mould, vermin

Irene Wagner and her family were forced out of their home for a year after a five-alarm fire tore through the building next door. They're still waiting for the burnt-out ruin adjacent to them to be rebuilt.

Finetuning construction plans for replacement building means months of delays, developer says

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      This is Part 3 in a CBC Montreal Investigates series, Extreme Neglect.

      Irene Wagner and her family were forced out of their home for a year after a five-alarm fire tore through the apartment building and convenience store next door and severely damaged their condo in the Plateau–Mont-Royal borough.

      When Wagner's family finally returned home last spring, the shell of the burnt-out building next door was still there, untouched.

      "It's an eyesore," said Wagner.

      "We've had squatters. Rodents in the building itself. There's a smell of rotten wood, a mouldy smell coming from the building."

      The building at Roy Street and Laval Avenue has been abandoned since a fire last year and has become a magnet for squatters, Irene Wagner says. (CBC)

      After the fire in April 2015, Wagner said they routinely called the police to report squatters. She said the fire escape was finally barricaded, but the windows and doors downstairs are not boarded up.

      "People find a way to get in," said Wagner.

      Frontage attracts litter, discarded needles

      Wagner used to love the neighbourly feel of Laval Avenue.

      Before the fire, the kids would gather on the front street and play, while the adults gabbed and drank wine.

      No more. The flower bed in front of the burnt-out building has become a dumping ground for garbage, and Wagner said she and her neighbours have seen used needles discarded there.

      The fire exposed wood and tar paper on the upper floors. (CBC)

      "We're not sure how safe the balcony is, either," said Wagner. 

      The building has also changed the way Wagner and her family live. They rarely sit out on their back balcony now, as it looks out onto the wreckage of what's left of the adjacent building, as well as resident pigeons and rodents.

      If there's a breeze, the whiff of mould and rot is hard to ignore. 

      If firefighters don't demolish, delays set in

      When there's a fire, if a building is determined to be structurally unsound while firefighters are putting it out – or it's so unsafe it's preventing firefighters from extinguishing it – the firefighters themselves will make a call to demolish it immediately.

      However, that's a last resort.

      If the building isn't brought down right away, and it's determined later that it's unsafe, it can be difficult for the building's owner to get approval to demolish it.

      More from this series:

      The building at 250 Roy Street East housed a dépanneur and a café on the ground floor and apartments upstairs before fire struck in April 2015. (CBC)

      Shortly after the fire at 250 Roy Street East, the building's owner sold it.

      A replacement project is in the works, but Wagner isn't holding her breath.

      She said the heritage value of the area will likely mean the developer will have more hoops to jump through before the building can come down.

      ​'Things take time,' developer says

      Matthew Lieberman is the developer who plans to build a new building on Roy Street.

      His company has the demolition permit and is working on getting the construction permit for a 10-unit apartment building with a convenience store on the ground floor.

      "Things take time," he said about working with the borough to get the development approved, adding that just the reports to prove the building no longer had any structural or heritage value took months.

      "They care a lot about the history and patrimony of everything."

      An official for the Plateau–Mont-Royal borough says a construction permit should be issued soon.


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      About the Author

      Leah Hendry is a TV, radio and online journalist with CBC Montreal Investigates. Contact her via our confidential tipline: 514-597-5155 or on email at montrealinvestigates@cbc.ca.

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