Townhouse tenants steaming after hot water cut off

The City of Ottawa has received about a dozen complaints from tenants at two townhouses owned by the same landlord after their hot water was shut off in late May.

City has received about a dozen complaints from tenants at two townhouses

Melissa Poirier-Shields has been bathing her nine-month-old son Lucas with water heated on her stove ever since her landlord stopped paying the natural gas bill. (CBC)

Melissa Poirier-Shields cradles her nine-month-old son Lucas on her hip as she puts a stock pot full of water on the stove to boil. 

She's been following this routine to wash her dirty dishes for almost two weeks after Enbridge Gas cut off her hot water — the result, the utility company told her, of the owner of her Elmira Gardens townhouse not paying the bills. 

"It's quite a shock that we have no hot water," said Poirier-Shields, noting that the kitchen sink also doubles as Lucas's bathtub.   

"It's crazy, because we constantly have to keep boiling water for dishes. And me, my boyfriend and my daughter have to go to my parents to shower and do laundry because we can't do that here."

No response from landlord

Poirier-Shields shares the three-bedroom townhouse on Elmira Drive with her partner, their two children, and two other roommates. Their monthly rent is $1,600, which includes the natural gas that both powers the hot water tank and heats the home. 

On May 9, however, Enbridge Gas hand-delivered a letter advising them that the service would be discontinued on May 23. 

Poirier said she contacted the superintendent of the townhouse complex to find out what was going on, but never got a response.

She said she then repeatedly called the landlord, Chi Van Ho of Golden Dragon Ho Properties — only to be told he wasn't available. 

Poirier-Shields said the person who answered the phone at the landlord's Bank Street office said they had no idea when the gas would be restored. The receptionist, she said, told her they were in the process of trying to come up with a payment plan. 

An exterior shot of Melissa Poirier-Shields' Elmira Gardens townhouse, which has been without hot water since late May. (Laurie Fagan/CBC)

'Frustrating and ridiculous'

"This is just downright frustrating and ridiculous, and he shouldn't be owning properties" said Poirier-Shields. "I'm honestly lost for words. How can you let somebody live like this?" 

CBC reached out multiple times to Golden Dragon Ho Properties for comment but received no response.

Poirier-Shields then phoned Ontario's Landlord Tenant Board and filed notice that she wants financial compensation for being without hot water. A tribunal hearing for her complaint is forthcoming. 

Staff are continuing their efforts to encourage voluntary compliance and there are indications that the property manager is attempting to resolve the situation.- Statement from Ontario's Ministry of Housing

In an email, the province's Ministry of Housing — which oversees the tenant board — told CBC News they'd been contacted by "several" tenants living in buildings owned by Golden Dragon Ho Properties, and that the landlord is now "aware of the seriousness of the situation."

Failure to reconnect "vital services" like natural gas could lead to a fine of up to $25,000 for an individual and $100,000 for a corporation, the ministry said.

"Staff are continuing their efforts to encourage voluntary compliance, and there are indications that the property manager is attempting to resolve the situation. The ministry has also been in contact with the local utility and is reaching out to the City of Ottawa to determine other local efforts that have been taken to resolve the situation," a spokesperson wrote.

Poirier-Shields said she contacted the city's bylaw department herself, and was told the earliest her hot water might be reconnected is mid-June. 

She said she's frustrated with the bureaucracy, and the fact no one seems to be taking ownership of the problem

"I've called pretty much everywhere — even my MP," said Poirier-Shields. "They all say we have to wait until he pays the bill and we have to wait till they foreclose."

Other tenants have complained

Leah Phillips, another Golden Dragon Ho Properties tenant, lives with her partner in a two-bedroom, $1200-a-month townhouse at Manor Village on Majestic Drive in Nepean — and their hot water was cut off on May 23.

Like Poirier-Shields, Phillips complained to both the city and the Landlord Tenant Board. She said she received similar responses.

Leah Phillips stands outside her Nepean townhouse, which has been without water since late May. (Judy Trinh/CBC)

"It's been very uncomfortable, not being able to have heat on the cold nights and not being able to use our shower,"  said Phillips.

"We've had to bounce around to friends to have a shower and get clean. It's really frustrating" 

Phillips said they would like to stay in their townhouse, as they're trying to save money to buy their first home. 

"Honestly we just want what we pay for — we want our utilities back on," she said. 

Christine Hartig, issues management coordinator with the city's bylaw services department, confirmed that they've received about a dozen complaints from tenants at both Elmira Gardens and Manor Village.

Hartig said the landlord has been issued a blanket compliance order to restore the hot water to all units in all of his buildings — not just for renters who've filed complaints.   

If the landlord doesn't comply, the city can issue fines or a court summons — the "only other avenue to issue penalties," Hartig said.

She added she couldn't be certain exactly when tenants would have their hot water restored.

"We can't answer that ... the compliance dates are for mid-June. And we'll follow up," she said.

Hartig encouraged any tenants without hot water to reach out to the Landlord Tenant Board for help.

With files from Judy Trinh