Vancouver tenants living without heat for a month, with no timeline in sight for repairs

Joshua Chartrand, who works from home, says he sits at his desk with multiple clothing layers and under a blanket most days. The residents of the 10-unit building at 1191 West 12th Ave. have been without heating for more than a month after the building's boiler broke down. (Janella Hamilton/CBC - image credit)
Joshua Chartrand, who works from home, says he sits at his desk with multiple clothing layers and under a blanket most days. The residents of the 10-unit building at 1191 West 12th Ave. have been without heating for more than a month after the building's boiler broke down. (Janella Hamilton/CBC - image credit)

Three space heaters blow warm air around Joshua Chartrand's studio apartment in Vancouver's South Granville neighbourhood on Friday afternoon.

Chartrand, along with tenants in the other nine units in the Hartethorne building on 12th Avenue, have been without a primary heating system for more than a month.

"As the weeks go on, we just get colder," said Chartrand.

The company that owns the building, Oakwyn Realty, first notified residents that the building's boiler was broken in an email on Oct. 6.

They say they are working to fix the problem but did not provide a timeline for when heating could return to the building.

Meanwhile, temperatures in Vancouver are expected to drop in the coming days — forecasted to fall below zero next week — amid snowfall warnings.

Janella Hamilton/CBC
Janella Hamilton/CBC

Chartrand, who lives on the third floor and works from home, says he wears multiple layers and has a blanket draped over his body while sitting at his desk.

He says tenants in the basement and ground level complained they could see their breath when waking up in the morning.

But without a firm timeline for when the heating could come back on — and a tenancy dispute expected to take months — Chartrand and the other residents have little they can do.

'We're trying our best'

Oakwyn Realty provided a portable tower heater to each rental unit on Oct. 17. An email sent to tenants asked them to "strictly follow" safety guidelines, which include turning off the heater when leaving the room or going to bed.

In an email send on Thursday, the company told Chartrand that they would not reduce rent, but may reimburse tenants for electricity costs from the use of space heaters.

"It's just totally uncomfortable. Nobody should have to live like that," said Chartrand, who pays $1,600 a month for his studio.

"You're paying for a residence and not getting the basic necessities."

Submitted by Joshua Chartrand
Submitted by Joshua Chartrand

On Nov. 2, almost four weeks after first notifying residents of the broken boiler, Oakwyn Realty told tenants they were looking into a long-term solution.

Arlene Chiang, co-owner of Oakwyn Realty and one of the building's landlords, told CBC News in an interview on Friday that a technician concluded the building's current boiler could not be repaired.

She said they are looking into replacing the boiler, but first need to do asbestos testing.

Chiang says the building is over a century old and there was a possibility that asbestos — a toxic material that was used in construction for decades — could be in the boiler room.

"We're not being negligent landlords. We're trying our best to make the building better ... we absolutely want to make sure that our tenants are comfortable in the residence," said Chiang. "It doesn't happen in a day or two days."

In an email to Chartrand on Thursday, Oakwyn Realty said: "A new boiler costs over $60k so we hope you understand that it is not an easy and quick purchase."

Janella Hamilton/CBC
Janella Hamilton/CBC

CBC contacted two independent boiler technicians in Vancouver, who both said replacing a boiler should take under a month as new boilers are readily available in B.C.

One technician said asbestos testing could delay the process by a few days. CBC News has agreed not to name them as they did not have first-hand knowledge of the situation.

Potentially a months-long wait

Having lived without heat for over a month, Chartrand began to file a dispute resolution with the B.C. Residential Tenancy Branch this week, which could result in an emergency repair order, forcing the owner to expedite repairs.

But he realized he couldn't afford the $100 fee.

According to tenant advocate and lawyer Robert Patterson, even if Chartrand did file the dispute resolution, it would be months before the issue goes before an arbitrator.

While heating is classified as an emergency repair and would get priority, dispute resolutions are so backlogged that it wouldn't be addressed until February or March, said Patterson.

And he added that an arbitrator might not find the property owner in breach of B.C.'s Tenancy Act if they are taking steps to solve the problem — even if it is taking a long time.

Janella Hamilton/CBC
Janella Hamilton/CBC

"It can be complicated," Patterson told CBC News in an interview.

"It's hard for tenants to know, is the landlord actually doing something or are they just making it look like they're doing something?"