Illegal rooming house owner fined two years after deadly fire

The owner of an illegal rooming house in the city’s west end has been slapped with a $60,000 fine after a fire at the home killed a tenant just under two years ago.

Fire killed a 23-year-old basement apartment tenant

This house was the scene of a deadly fire in November, 2013. (Trevor Dunn/CBC)

The owner of an illegal rooming house in the city's west end has been slapped with a $60,000 fine after a fire at the home killed a tenant just under two years ago.

The city announced the conviction and fine on Wednesday. The home's owner, Konstantin Lysenko, will be on probation for 18 months and cannot possess or manage a rental property during that time.

A victim surcharge of $15,000 was also tacked on to the $60,000 fine, the city said Wednesday in a news release.

The three-storey, wood-frame detached home had been operating as an unregistered, illegal rooming house when a fire started in the basement on November 20, 2013. Alisha Lamers, a 23-year-old woman who had been living in the basement apartment for just over a month, was trapped and unable to escape the blaze.

Her boyfriend, Josh Schaefer, who had stepped out for a cigarette and another tenant of the home tried to break into the basement to save her. Firefighters revived Lamers at the scene, but she died as a result of her injuries.

Toronto's Fire Prevention Officer later noticed several fire code violations, including broken smoke alarms. The home's third floor also did not have a secondary exit, which is against the law.

"Basically with a building of this nature, it should have had interconnected smoke alarms on every floor level, so if one had gone off they all would have gone off simultaneously," Jim Silverthorn, district chief for fire prevention with Toronto Fire, told CBC News on Wednesday.

"But unfortunately, if a person is asleep, the smoke alarm is the only thing that is going to wake you up, because you can't smell smoke in your sleep."

Ultimately, the landlord is responsible for ensuring that a rental building meets the fire code, Silverthorn said.

Fines for violations have increased steadily in his 25 years as a firefighter, he added.

"There's a clear message here that there's not much tolerance on these basic life requirements not being provided," he said.

The victim's mother, Janet Lamers Moore, said she has been waiting 21 months for the issue to be resolved.

"My first reaction: it wasn't enough," Lamers Moore told CBC News on Wednesday.

"But in the grand scheme of things nothing will bring my daughter back. Do I want this person to be punished? That's not my job. My job as a mother was to make sure that this was brought before the courts, that there were charges laid."

Overall, she said, "it is healing. It has allowed me to keep moving forward, keep bringing awareness so that this does not happen again."

To that end, Lamers Moore has been working with Toronto Coun. Ana Bailao to establish better standards for landlords and their rental properties.

They hope the city will establish a registry for landlords, so tenants can look up a rental unit they hope to lease to ensure it is a legal unit that meets all fire code regulations and has adequate insurance.

"There are thousands of people across the GTA who are living in illegal and unregulated basement apartments," Lamers Moore said.

She was concerned about the apartment and told her daughter so. However, she let the 23-year-old make her own decision about where to live.

"I wish I would have done more," Lamers Moore said. "I said everything to her that I did not think it was safe."

But her daughter felt that because she had a proper lease, that it was a legal apartment, she said.

"It's just a shame that a person looked my daughter in the eye and rented this place knowing that there were all these other fire codes in this house," Lamers Moore said.

"Not only was he jeopardizing my daughter, he was jeopardizing the other 20-something-year-olds in this place."

Toronto council's standards committee is expected to discuss the landlord registry issue at a meeting this fall.