City orders vermin-infested, 'unsafe' Halifax apartments shut down
Landlord faces slew of violations in pair of apartment buildings on Evans Avenue in Fairview
Kent Mullin is homeless but in a way, he's relieved. His apartment — unsafe, a fire hazard and infested with cockroaches, mice and bedbugs — wasn't much better than being on the streets.
He was one of several people forced to leave 22 Evans Ave. earlier this week. The evacuation of the building, in Halifax's Fairview neighbourhood, was ordered by police in a bylaw crackdown by the municipality.
"I heard the police officer, he was yelling, 'Answer the door or we're forcing the door in,'" said Mullin, who'd been staying in an apartment rented by a friend for several weeks.
He figured it had something to do with the filthy conditions inside the building. He was right.
"Unsafe living conditions" and fire violations triggered the unusual action taken by the city, said Brendan Elliott, a spokesperson for the Halifax Regional Municipality.
He says the city evacuated and boarded up the building under the Halifax charter's dangerous and unsightly premises section. He estimated it's the 10th time in the last 10 years that the city has shut down a building.
The building has 12 units — eight were occupied — and it wasn't clear how many people were forced out. A one-bedroom in the building cost $600 a month.
Elliott cited rodents, bed bugs and cockroaches as major issues in the building. Mullin agreed and said it's a sign of how desperate the housing situation is.
"Disgusting. You got mice running around, cockroaches crawling all over the counters, they get in your food. It's quite nasty in there, quite disgusting," said Mullin.
Complaint started investigation
For the city, it was more than gross living conditions that prompted the action.
"Extremely dangerous" fire violations, including a lack of doors to apartments and fire extinguishers, also led to the order to vacate the building, said Elliott.
Bylaw enforcement got involved after someone complained about the property. Officers visited the building in July, and twice last week to see if progress had been made.
On Tuesday, officials swooped in. Firefighters, planning department staff and police officers assisted bylaw officers in evacuating the building.
Property next door also investigated
CBC News has learned the building next door — 24 Evans Ave. — is also under active investigation by the city. That property and 22 Evans Ave. are advertised as Olive Branch properties and online records list George Tsimiklis as the owner of both.
Michael Moore, Tsimiklis's lawyer, blamed the damage at 22 Evans Ave. to some tenants and some of their guests. He said Tsimiklis had spent thousands of dollars removing graffiti and repairing doors and windows, only to deal with "continuous vandalism to the property."
Removing the tenants "makes the building more manageable for the landlord," Moore told CBC News.
Moore said Tsimiklis and the Department of Community Services each paid a portion for accommodations for the people who were forced out.
There's still one tenant living at 24 Evans Ave., where Elliott said 29 "serious" Fire Safety Act violations were discovered after an inspection on Aug. 19.
Elliott said a vacate order would be the last resort if the landlord fails to fix the building. Fines of $25,000 to a landlord and or six months jail time are possible. Aggravated circumstances could push the fine to $150,000 and or two years in jail.
'Bugs are pretty heavy'
Mullin, who used to live at 24 Evans Ave., says the mouse infestation there is even worse than the building next door.
"The bugs are pretty heavy over here as over here," said Mullin. "They're pretty damn close."
Mullin says it's a "pretty rotten" to kick out the tenants, and says the city should have provided notice. He says he's lucky he has a friend he can stay with for now.
He also has a message for the landlord.
"At least fix the buildings up and stop treating their tenants like crap, you know."