Tenants demand answers from landlord in wake of fatal North York fire

Tenants displaced by a massive fire last month rallied in the cold on Saturday to demand better communication from their landlord about when they can return to their homes.

Dozens at 235 Gosford Blvd. call on property management company to communicate better

Tenants say they are frustrated because they do not know if they will have a place to live next month or when they will be able to return to the building at 235 Gosford Blvd. (Taylor Simmons/CBC)

Tenants displaced by a massive fire last month rallied in the cold on Saturday to demand better communication from their landlord about when they can return to their homes.

The five-alarm fire at 235 Gosford Blvd., near Jane Street and Steeles Avenue West, killed one person, injured six others and displaced about 700 residents.

Dozens gathered outside the damaged building to call for answers to their questions. Holding placards, they called on Ronkay Management Inc., the building's property management company, to develop a plan.

"Tenants don't know what's going on," Gavin Krause, a tenant, said in a news release. "A lot of tenants are being denied their transition payments or struggling to find a place to live. It's not fair. We need to know what's going on."

According to the Toronto chapter of the Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now (ACORN), which is helping the tenants, families are frustrated because they do not know if they will have a place to live next month or when they will be able to return. 

The fire on Nov. 15 tore through six floors of the building. The person who died was found on the balcony of unit 808, the unit where the fire originated.

Tenants have been allowed to return to the building only to retrieve belongings.

Balconies have been boarded up since the fire on Nov. 15. One person was killed, six others injured and about 700 displaced. (Taylor Simmons/CBC)

Following the fire, some tenants sought shelter at the nearby Driftwood Community Recreation Centre. Then they were bused to the Tait McKenzie Centre at York University, an emergency shelter set up by the city. They were allowed to stay there for two weeks until Nov. 29.

Darryl Singer, lawyer at Diamond and Diamond, the firm representing the tenants, has said residents are asking for the following:

  • That the landlord ensure that all displaced residents are housed in alternate accommodations until the building is habitable.
  • That all tenants immediately receive what he says is a promised cheque to help them make the transition to new accommodations.
  • And that some assistance is provided to get kids to school or daycare from new accommodations.

Singer said lawyers are debating legal action to ensure these things happen either in court or at Ontario's Landlord and Tenant Board, but it will depend on the management company's response to their requests.

Landlord working to rehouse tenants

In a Facebook post Saturday afternoon, Ronkay Management Inc. said it hopes to have many residents back in their apartments "sometime in the new year," and that it will provide updates on the timeline as best it can.

"Clients may re-occupy their units once restoration work is complete and repairs have been completed to the common areas, building mechanical and electrical systems and the building [has] been deemed safe," the company told CBC News in a statement, adding it is working with individual tenants to keep them updated.

Meanwhile, Ronkay Management is continuing to house people at a hotel.

Those tenants are required to pay the same rental and parking fees as they did in their apartments before the fire, the company said. Residents who found their own accommodations are not required to pay rent to Ronkay, and have been given a transition payment equal to their December rent, the company said.

"A number of cheques have not yet been picked up and we are reaching out to those clients to make sure they know where to go," the company said.

Jeffrey Villacorta and his family — including his three children aged five and under — were displaced by last month's fire. He said it has been a difficult month. (Vedran Lesic/CBC)

Tenant Jeffrey Villacorta expressed disappointment that the company has not provided all of the displaced tenants with accommodations, but has allowed some to stay with friends or relatives — something he said can be a burden on people.

Since being displaced by the fire, Villacorta said his family — including his children aged five, four and one — have stayed in shelters, and are now living at a hotel. He said his insurance and the Red Cross helped cover the cost of the hotel, but he claims Ronkay Management has not offered his family any money. 

"They're saying about transition, but they pick and choose who they give transition to," he said. "I asked them personally, and they said I don't have anything."

Maintaining a normal life at the hotel isn't easy for his family, he added. Villacorta said he has to move the couch just so his kids can play, because there isn't enough room.

"Having little kids in this kind of situation — it's really hard. This is at the lowest point of our lives so far," he said, adding Christmas will be a tough time.

Housing lawyer Caryma Sa'd says the landlord is obligated to provide displaced tenants with alternate accommodations. (Taylor Simmons/CBC)

Housing lawyer Caryma Sa'd, who has been providing some tenants with legal information, said a common theme she's noticed is that different tenants are receiving different information.

She said her understanding of the law is that the landlord has an obligation to provide tenants with accommodations that are in good repair.

"If that can't be the building where there was a fire, alternate accommodations need to be put in place," she said.

Fire damaged 6 floors of building

Ontario's Office of the Fire Marshal is continuing to investigate the fire's cause, origin and circumstances because it resulted in a death and extensive damage.

Officials from Toronto Fire Services have said the fire damaged six floors of the building from the seventh to twelfth floors. About 25 fire trucks and 100 firefighters worked to put out the fire.

Dozens of tenants gathered in the cold on Saturday to demand that their landlord, Ronkay Management Inc., communicate better about when they will be able to return home following a fatal fire last month. (Taylor Simmons/CBC)