Tenant waits weeks for building to be deep-cleaned after decomposing body found inside

·4 min read
Viji Murugaiyah has been staying with friends in Scarborough for nearly six weeks as she waits for her rooming house on Sherbourne Street to be deep cleaned.  (CBC - image credit)
Viji Murugaiyah has been staying with friends in Scarborough for nearly six weeks as she waits for her rooming house on Sherbourne Street to be deep cleaned. (CBC - image credit)

A Toronto rooming house tenant still can't move back into her home after waiting nearly six weeks for her building to be properly cleaned after her neighbour's decomposing body was found inside.

Viji Murugaiyah says she began smelling something off in the hallway of her Sherbourne Street home in late May, and asked her landlord to check in on her elderly neighbour after realizing she hadn't seen him recently.

CBC News first told Murugaiyah's story late last month, just days after she finally called emergency services on June 14. They discovered the man's body inside his room.

"It was a shock to me, I couldn't stay there, because when they opened the door more smells came out," she told CBC Toronto. "I moved to Scarborough to a friend's house."

Murugaiyah says she's not sure what the 10 or so others who live in the unlicensed rooming house have done, though another of her neighbours did leave her room due to the smell.

In the weeks since, she says she asked her landlord to hire a specialized forensic cleaning company "10 or 15 times" to decontaminate the building before she moves back in.

Submitted by Viji Murugaiyah
Submitted by Viji Murugaiyah

It wasn't until Tuesday, after CBC Toronto had contacted her, that her landlord, Jojo Ye, said she had hired a company to clean up any remaining biohazards in the unit and building. Murugaiyah says she'll believe it when she sees it.

"I don't trust her," she said. "She has had enough time to clean up this place, but she still didn't do it."

When contacted by CBC News, the cleaning company would not confirm it had been hired by Ye.

'Nobody wants to clean the unit more than me' 

Ye told CBC News the clean-up was delayed because a relative of the man who died wanted access to his belongings before they were removed. She said following that, she attempted to hire traditional cleaning companies to do the job.

"When I hire a cleaning service, they reject them," said Ye in a phone interview, referring to Murugaiyah and her legal aid lawyer, Lindsey Tulk.

"Nobody wants to clean the unit more than me, because I want to rent it out," she continued.

However, Tulk tells a different story, saying she told Ye's cleaning company a man had died in the room, at which point they quit.

Christian Cadieux, president of a forensic cleaning company called Crime and Trauma Scene Cleaners, says there's a big difference between a company that is prepared to deal with post-mortem bodily fluids and other biohazards and one that isn't.

"A traditional cleaner would not have the skill set, the experience, the knowledge or the liability to perform these types of services," he told CBC News.

He also raises concerns about items being removed from the room by someone who isn't correctly trained or protected.

"The gases which are released from the human body … they're airborne, and they attach themselves to ceilings, floors, walls… to every item from television to a computer," he said.

A legal grey zone

When it comes to requirements for post-death cleaning inside homes, Ontario law is vague.

According to Cadieux, there are specific requirements for proving that a proper cleaning has taken place when houses are sold, and the Ministry of the Environment can also levy fines for improperly disposed hazardous materials.

As for rentals, Ontario's Residential Tenancies Act does not lay out specific steps landlords need to take when a death occurs in their buildings — though the smell that pervaded Murugaiyah's building could be seen as a violation of her "reasonable enjoyment" of her unit, which is protected by the act.

CBC
CBC

Lindsey Tulk, Murugaiyah's legal aid lawyer from Neigbourhood Legal Services, told CBC News legislation requiring a certain standard of forensic cleaning for rental housing would be helpful.

But Tulk worries that even if it were laid out, it can be time-consuming and difficult for tenants to take their landlords to the Landlord and Tenant Board to make sure rules are enforced.

She also says the reality faced by unlicensed rooming house tenants — many of whom are in vulnerable groups — makes it even harder to effect change.

According to City of Toronto documents, 570 Sherbourne is lingering in the "application" phase and has yet to receive a rooming house license, which Tulk says would have given the city "a more prominent role in following up after something like this happens."

"Where we have landlords like Ms. Ye, who are failing to uphold their most basic obligations as landlords, we need to ensure that unlicensed rooming houses are having the appropriate oversight," she said.

"Because right now, there's very little."

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