Residents in fire-damaged tower can stay until city orders them out, despite letter saying leave 'immediately'

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Residents in fire-damaged tower can stay until city orders them out, despite letter saying leave 'immediately'

Residents in fire-damaged tower can stay until city orders them out, despite letter saying leave 'immediately'

Tenants of a Winnipeg high-rise apartment who say they were caught off-guard by a letter directing them to leave immediately after a fire in the building earlier this month are finding out they don't necessarily need to heed the dire directions to vacate for at least a week or two.

While the letter sent to some residents of 7 Evergreen Place in Osborne Village late Friday told them leave immediately and move their belongings as soon as possible, the building's owners, Shelter Canadian Properties, told CBC News Monday affected tenants don't actually have to move out until the city revokes occupancy permits for suites it says were left with compromised "life-safety systems" by a fire and resulting flood from a burst pipe about three weeks ago.

"The timing was terrible because it was a Friday afternoon that we'd received notice from the architects and engineers," said Larry Beeston, general manager of high-rise property management for Manitoba with Shelter Canadian Properties. "I think if we waited for the City of Winnipeg to revoke occupancy permits they [the tenants] would be asking why didn't we know before now."

Beeston estimates that the process could take two to three weeks for the city to complete.

In the meantime, he says, affected tenants are more than welcome to stay in their suites knowing the life-saving systems — which he said include the firewall that helps to stop fire from jumping between suites — has been compromised. 

Beeston says he understands the concerns tenants who received the letters have had, but says Shelter Canadian Properties was left with little choice because they only found out about the safety concerns at a 2 p.m. meeting with inspectors Friday.

"If I had my life to live over again I would have camped out in the lobby Friday night and made myself available to tenants at that time — that's 20/20 hindsight — there's a lot of information that not all of which could be crammed into a one-page letter," he said. "But they got notified of the risk on Friday night and the bottom line is that it is not safe for them to remain in the suite."

Beeston says the company opened the general manager's office on Saturday morning to address questions from tenants and Shelter Canadian Properties is working with tenants to help them relocate to other properties managed by the company across the city.

Affected tenants will be given first right of refusal to return to their suites at Evergreen Place once repairs are made to the suites, which he says should take four to six months.

"We feel that we've treated the tenants well by making sure that they know about a life-safety situation as quickly as possible," he said. "We're trying to help them through a very difficult time."

'There really hasn't been much of a follow-up from them'

Carl O'Brien and some other tenants had an informal meeting in the lobby of the building Monday night to find out what everyone knew about the situation.

"This is really a new situation for a lot of us," he said.

O'Brien said he's still unclear on how long he'll have to find a new place to live.

"There really hasn't been much of a follow-up from them," said O'Brien of Shelter Canadian Properties' response since the initial letter. "When I came home there was a letter under the door — I think it was under everybody's doors — about an inspection that's being carried out this week. 

"But there's really been no specific update in terms of what's happening with the inspections, like are the engineers going to report to the city, when is that going to be done, and how much time do we have before we have to move."

While he says he feels safe in the building, he's still "uneasy, anxious, and on edge" given what's been happening, and he's now in the process of looking for a new place to live.

"I don't think the building is going come crashing down or collapse — or I hope that's not the case," he said. "But I'm still a little uneasy after the letter on Friday saying vacate immediately, I'm still uneasy about that and worried there's going to be some other kind of similar notice or the locks might be changed or something like that."