While a group of residents displaced by a deadly fire at a highrise on Gosford Boulevard last month say they aren't satisfied with the efforts the city and landlord have taken to address air quality and prepare the units for re-occupancy, the city and the building's management company have said they have done their due diligence.
Caryma Sa'd is a lawyer representing a group of tenants who were forced from their homes when a fire ripped through their 15-storey apartment building at 235 Gosford Blvd. in North York last month. One man died and 700 people were left displaced.
In an open letter to Toronto Mayor John Tory, Sa'd called on him to pause the reoccupation of residents until safety issues, including air quality, can be addressed.
"This is about safety, this is about quality of life," Sa'd said at a press conference Saturday morning, surrounded by many displaced residents who are currently staying at a hotel.
Residents uneasy about moving back
Last week, 26 units were deemed ready for re-occupancy, and an additional 19 units were cleared Friday.
But Sa'd says residents are uneasy about returning home so soon after the deadly fire, citing concerns over air particles and soot left over from the fire.
"We need more than air quality testing, we need surface testing," she said.
"We need to make sure that this is contemplated and people living or being asked to return to the building are not posing a risk to themselves or to their families."
City deemed building fit
In a statement, the city said Toronto building staff have conducted "several inspections of 235 Gosford Blvd," adding that staff have obtained the services of a professional engineer "to look at the structural integrity of the building, as well as the building's fire protection systems."
After conducting the inspections, the city says it was determined that partial occupancy could take place, with the owner taking on the necessary cleaning prior to tenants returning.
As units became clear for re-occupancy, staff were also told that an independent engineer conducted an air quality testing in the building and had no concerns.
The city says staff will inspect the site again next week to see if other units are available to be reoccupied.
"The City of Toronto has been actively involved in this matter since the day of the tragic fire, and will remain so, ensuring displaced residents are able to return to their homes only when it is safe to do so," the statement reads.
Residents required to sign waivers
Residents are being required to sign a waiver every time they go in and out of the building if their unit hasn't been given approval for re-entry, acknowledging the possibility of hazards and other safety risks.
Sa'd says the waivers "release the landlord from any future liability or damages, including from unknown health hazards."
"It is unconscionable to effectively force residents to wager their health for shelter," she added.
Sa'd says she visited the building on Christmas Day and was told by residents that some units did not appear professionally cleaned and some stairwells were inaccessible.
"I'm aware on certain floors that there's the odour and residue and smoke. I know soot marks on walls that appear to have been painted over. That's wholly inadequate," Sa'd says.
'We went above and beyond'
While the city and landlords have said the building is in good condition, Sa'd says her clients are asking to see the information that verifies it's safe enough for residents to move back into.
She says their requirements include understanding the scope of the investigations, getting results of the air quality and surface testing, as well results of the final inspections.
Ronkay Management, the company that owns the building, says another 28 units will be released on monday for reoccupancy, totalling 73 units to received a green light.
"We went above and beyond requirements to have air quality testing done on the building- including areas that were not directly impacted by the fire," the company said. "Our independent contractor T.Smith Engineering, has reported that no air quality concerns were found."
The company says residents are responsible for cleaning their own items and those who have moved back into the units have done so at their own choice.