Toronto

Former tenants of Toronto building say high carbon monoxide levels forced them out years ago

Former residents of a west-end apartment building that was recently deemed unsafe by the city due to high levels of carbon monoxide have come forward, saying they had to vacate their units for the same reason years ago.

Residents given 24 hours to permanently vacate on Thursday due to serious safety concerns

Workers with a moving company remove furniture from apartments above an auto shop at 1407-1409 Bloor St. W., on Monday. Nine residents were given 24 hours to move out of their units on Thursday as the city said the dwellings were illegal. (Evan Mitsui/CBC)

Former residents of a west-end apartment building that was recently deemed unsafe by the city due to high levels of carbon monoxide have come forward, saying they had to vacate their units for the same reason years ago.

On Thursday, nine tenants of 1407-1409 Bloor St. W were left in the cold after they were ordered to vacate their units within 24 hours after potentially lethal levels of carbon monoxide were detected in their building.

The four units in question are located above an auto repair shop. The city has since said the units were built without a permit.

The situation is all too familiar for former tenant of the building Andrija Dimitrijevic, who said a carbon monoxide leak forced him to permanently vacate his unit in 2017. 

"It was such a shocking turn of events, like it completely upended everything," he said. 

Dimitrijevic said that he'd fallen in love with the space when he first moved into 1409 Bloor St. W in 2013, noting that finding a place in the city that "fits artists" is difficult, especially at a decent price.

He'd used the loft-style unit, which he called one of his favourite apartments to date, as a live-work gallery for his photography business and had put around $10,000 worth of renovations into the unit. 

This image provided to CBC Toronto by a resident who was told to vacate on Thursday displays the type of loft-style units found in the Junction Triangle neighbourhood building. (Submitted by Miles Gertler)

Then, four years after Dimitrijevic moved in, his carbon monoxide detector went off.

When Toronto Fire assessed the unit, they said the levels were six or seven times higher than the safe amount. The fire department told him and his partner they had to leave their unit because they weren't permitted to live above a garage, Dimitrijevic said. 

"They literally waited in the apartment while we packed bags and left.... We weren't even allowed to stay that night."

Dimitrijevic's landlord at the time returned his first and last month's rent, and he was given about a month to gather his belongings.

City deputy mayor 'very disturbed, disappointed' 

Ana Bailão, the deputy mayor of Toronto and councillor for Ward 9 — Davenport, said she's now committed to helping out the tenants who were forced out of their units on Thursday with no accommodation from their landlord.

Brad J. Lamb, a developer with Lamb Sterling Corp., also known as Lamb Development Corp., owns and manages the building. Residents say he's refused to help them out in terms of hotels, movers, food and more. 

"They said, 'Here's your last month's rent deposit, that's it.' They said, 'We will not be offering you any support in this situation,'" resident Michael Seater had said of Lamb and his representatives. 

Bailão told CBC Toronto she was "very disturbed, disappointed" by the way the situation was handled. 

"[You'd] think that any landlord, in the middle of a pandemic, especially in these circumstances, would work with tenants to say, 'You know, we have to keep you safe, let's work out a plan ... not, 'Here's a letter, you have 24 hours, our deal is off," she said.

"The way that these tenants have been treated is not right and we need to support them," said Toronto Deputy Mayor Ana Bailão. (CBC)

Lamb has not responded to multiple interview requests from CBC Toronto. 

Bailão said she's spoken with the property management company, but she asked for Lamb to call her. As of Sunday, she said she's still waiting for that call. 

Both her office and city staff have been in contact with the tenants over the weekend, Bailão said, advising them on where to look for legal support. She said she'll be looking into any opportunity for rental replacement and for rental relocation for them.

"The way that these tenants have been treated is not right and we need to support them." 

The deputy mayor said the property was recently bought by Lamb's development company. Although it's unclear whether he knew that the units were built without a city permit, Bailão said a property buyer would normally do their research. 

"You check the permits, you check if these units are legal; your lawyers check these things," she said, adding that she's "very surprised" that the illegitimacy of the units wasn't recognized.

Lamb applied for 18-storey condo at same location

In November 2020, a development company submitted an application to the city to build an 18-storey condominium at the same location as the Bloor Street West building in the Junction Triangle neighbourhood. 

Bailão confirmed the applicant for this building is Lamb's development company. 

Lamb tweeted a link to the condo, which, if approved, will be called The Sterling Automotive and located at 1405 Bloor St. As of Sunday, the city and his website both say the development has not yet been approved. 

However, the deputy mayor said that when you're building communities, you have to work with the community that's already there — something she said Lamb failed to do. 

A November 2020 application submitted by Lamb Sterling Corp. to the city of Toronto shows Lamb's plan to build an 18-storey condo at the site of a property he currently owns, which has faced multiple carbon monoxide leaks. (City of Toronto)

"Looking at the way that our neighbours were treated by this landlord is very discouraging. It doesn't give us a lot of hope in this process that we have ahead of us," she said.

"Trust needs to be built and obviously it is very concerning to see the way that these tenants were treated just when we're about to embark [on] this process."

On Thursday, the city sent Lamb a notice about the building's unsafe conditions and Lamb passed on the message to his tenants without offering any accommodation, she said.

"Just imagining receiving a letter saying you have 24 hours to pack up your belongings, your life and leave.... How do you respond to that in normal times, but particularly in the middle of a pandemic?" Bailão said. 

Units still listed on rental sites

Another resident who lived in the building 15 years ago said carbon monoxide was an issue for him back then as well. 

"We were there for about two years and then one day, the alarms were going off," Martin Stelnick, another artist, told CBC Toronto. 

In 2008, he lived under a different landlord who initially told him it was likely his fault because he was operating his thermostat incorrectly. He vacated the unit shortly after this incident. 

CBC Toronto has learned that the units that were vacated on Thursday still pop up on rental sites like Padmapper, RentBoard.ca and others.

A listing for a unit at 1407 Bloor St. W was posted by Lamb's company to a rental site on March 10, one day before residents were forced to permanently vacate all units on March 11. The listing, which remained online as of Sunday night, said the unit is available April 1. (RentBoard.ca)

"These units are not allowed to exist," said Bailão. 

On Thursday, the city ordered that the units be vacated and banned from occupancy. One ad for a unit at 1407 Bloor St. W was posted on Wednesday for $3,195 and is listed for occupancy as of April 1. The poster is Lamb's real estate company.

"I lost not just my place to live, I lost my place of business.... My business hasn't fully recovered since then," said Dimitrijevic, saying he understands what the current residents are going through. 

"I just hope that these people find new places to live and my heart goes out to them."

Residents forced from the building told CBC Toronto they plan on taking legal action.

With files from Dalia Ashry and Derick Deonarain

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