City investigating how landlord was left with 'disgusting' rental unit

Ottawa Mayor Jim Watson is asking the city manager to investigate what went wrong with a city-coordinated housing program that left one landlord's unit trashed and crawling with maggots in just seven months.

'Obviously the mess that was left was absolutely reprehensible,' says Ottawa Mayor Jim Watson

An Ottawa landlord said the City of Ottawa covered his rent so a chronically homeless man could get off the streets and have a permanent place to live. But his case went horribly wrong, he said. (Ashley Burke/CBC News)

Ottawa Mayor Jim Watson is asking the city manager to investigate what went wrong with a city-coordinated housing program that left one landlord's unit trashed and crawling with maggots.

Nitin Mehra agreed to participate in the City of Ottawa's Housing First program, which connects people living on the streets or in shelters with landlords.

Now, as he told CBC's Ashley Burke, he's facing thousands of dollars in damage to clean up the feces, garbage and maggots after he said no one came to the unit to check on the tenant in seven months.

Watson said he wants to ensure nothing like this happens again.

"I saw the footage and it was absolutely disgusting," Watson said from City Hall Wednesday.

Ottawa Mayor Jim Watson said the rental unit was left in a 'disgusting' and 'reprehensible' state, and that he's asked the city manager to investigate. (Roger Dubois/CBC)

'Absolutely reprehensible'

"I have great sympathy for the landlord who was trying to do something good to help a homeless person, and obviously the mess that was left was absolutely reprehensible," he said.

He's asking city manager Steve Kanellakos to investigate and report back to find out what went wrong and why the tenant did not appear to have "real supports," Watson said.

"It was clear because his unit was not inspected for about seven months, which I have some questions around," he added. "At least in the first week with a support worker and then maybe every second week and so on to make sure the person was following the rules and actually getting on with his or her life."

Mehra was connected to the Housing First program through the Landlord Partnership Program (LPP), a city and Salvation Army initiative that signs up landlords with vacant units for rent.

The Salvation Army promised that a housing casemanager would make weekly home visits, as well as offer cleaning and support services, Mehra said. A Salvation Army brochure about the program also states: "The Housing Case Managers conduct a minimum of one home visit per week."

But the Canadian Mental Health Association, which provided the caseworker for Mehra's tenant, said while they try to meet with Housing First tenants weekly, there is no guarantee the meeting will be at home.

VHS tapes, rotting food and garbage covered the floor of the rental unit's bedroom. Maggots were also crawling on the ceiling. (Ashley Burke/CBC News)

Landlord shouldn't foot bill, says councillor

City councillor Mark Taylor, the mayor's special liaison on housing and homelessness, told Alan Neal on CBC Radio's All in a Day the CMHA caseworkers play a critical role in providing supports to the tenants.

"I'm not pointing the finger at them, we have to actually unpack this whole thing and see what happened in this case, but clearly something went wrong with this individual," Taylor said.

Should caseworkers notice issues, they need to escalate the issue and let others know what is happening, he said.

Many landlords participate in the program and the "vast majority" are successful, he said, but added that if the city wants that to continue, "we have to make sure they are offered some measure of protection."

Though he is unsure who should be legally responsible to pay for the damages, he doesn't think it is fair for the landlord to foot the bill.

"I'd like to see that corrected," he said.

Program 'missing components'

Mathieu Fleury, the councillor for the neighbourhood where the housing unit is, said Mehra's situation has uncovered gaps both in execution and funding of the program.

"I still believe in Housing First but as you can see there is missing components, there's missing coordination here and we can't just rely on signed agreements between city landlords and CMHA to think that things would resolve," he said.

"It requires a lot more boots on the ground, a lot more activation on that front to make Housing First work."