Residents of a west-end apartment building, who were recently told their units above an auto repair shop were built illegally, are being left in the cold after they were ordered to vacate their units within 24 hours on Thursday evening after lethal levels of carbon monoxide were detected in their building.
Toronto Fire was called to the building on Bloor Street West around 1 a.m. on Wednesday after a resident's carbon monoxide detector went off. That unit and the building's three others were inspected.
Residents said the building was evacuated and they were made to wait in a bus provided to them for more than two hours while the fire department tested for carbon monoxide. When they completed their investigation, they found carbon monoxide levels of 66 parts per million in one of the resident's units.
Following several visits from city inspectors and fire crews later Wednesday morning, residents were told their units were deemed unsafe. On Thursday, they were told they had 24 hours to vacate their homes, which the city said should never have been occupied in the first place.
"In 24 hours, nine people are homeless," said resident Michael Seater on Saturday, whose self-installed detector went off on Wednesday and prompted the inspections. He said none of the four detectors that the landlord had installed had gone off.
Seater said a firefighter told him that the landlord's carbon monoxide detectors were likely installed "way too high" to be effective.
On Wednesday, Seater's carbon monoxide detector went off again, and this time, Toronto Fire checked the garage below. They found carbon monoxide levels of 100 parts per million — a potentially lethal level.
Seater said the fire prevention inspector told him that the carbon monoxide detector he had purchased likely saved a lot of lives that day.
Residents frustrated; no accommodation from building owners
Residents of the building said property manager Brad J. Lamb, big-name developer of Lamb Sterling Corp, also known as Lamb Development Corp., is refusing to help them. They said the same of the building's landlords.
Resident Vanessa Popoli said she feels distraught and frustrated at the abruptness of the eviction.
She said the city notice telling them to vacate was posted to residents' doors at 6 p.m. on Thursday.
"The City of Toronto has hereby ordered that the second floor units located at 1407-1409 Bloor Street West must be vacated no later than 11:59 p.m. on March 12, 2021," the notice reads. That gave residents just over 24 hours to leave.
"Kindly consider this letter to be formal notice that your tenancy has been terminated and you must vacate the property."
The notice indicated that as of Saturday, access to the units would be strictly prohibited, although residents said they were allowed access to the units to collect their belongings.
"[We're] very stressed and overwhelmed ... There's nowhere for us to stay such last-minute during a pandemic," said Popoli.
Seater said he reached out to the building's landlords and asked what kind of accommodations they would be providing the residents 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,'" Seater said.
The city said it understands it can be challenging for tenants to be asked to leave their homes in such a short period of time, however, given the serious life safety issues at this location, it was imperative that the residents not remain there.
In a statement, the city also said it gave the tenants resources to help them find housing, but Seater said it's not enough.
"No one in the city has our back right now," Seater said.
Apartments constructed without building permit, city says
Residents said there were many issues in the building leading up to this incident, including smelling fumes from the garage downstairs and leaky pipes. They said the landlords said they would look into their complaints, but they never did.
In a statement to CBC Toronto, a spokesperson for the city of Toronto said that while building permits were issued for the repair garage on the ground level, the apartments were constructed without a building permit.
"For life safety reasons, the Building Code strictly prohibits residential units in a building that is used for auto repairs and painting."
A city notice issued to Lamb Sterling Corp. obtained by CBC Toronto also ordered the property manager to "immediately prohibit use of auto repair garages....until residential use has been eliminated as required."
Many residents said they were shocked to discover that it was illegal to occupy units situated above an auto repair shop, but they said it was their landlord's job to inform them.
Michael Seater said he reached out to Ontario's Landlord and Tenant Board about this situation and was told that the residents' leases may have been fraudulent.
'Where's the consideration? Where's the compassion?'
Tahsin Davdani, a building resident and single mother of two, said it was one of her daughters who first learned they were being told to leave.
"She was visibly upset. It's been a challenging year for so many other reasons. To have housing insecurity be top of her mind, that's not what she should be thinking about," she said.
Davdani also said moving during a pandemic is not something everyone can do.
"The assumption that we have place to go in COVID ... you can't make those assumptions."
Residents of the Bloor Street West building wrote a letter to Lamb and the building's landlords outlining their frustration and telling them have continually failed to protect them.
"This is demonstrative of the unsafe conditions we have experienced here," they said of the incident.
When the tenants received notice that they were to vacate the units, they said the landlords and the property manager did not respond to their calls. When they finally got through and asked for financial coverage for relocation, temporary housing and food, "they proceeded to decline support," the letter reads.
Lamb did not immediately respond to an interview request from CBC Toronto.
For Davdani, she said she's "very thankful that no one was hurt" but that more needs to be done about the "panicky" situation these residents now face.
"Where's the consideration? Where's the compassion?"