City looks to fast-track major Westcourt upgrades as tenants wait for answers

City officials are working with Westcourt Place to bring the building back to code, as the more than 200 residents and business owners of the downtown highrise continue to mull their future, three months after a fire forced them out. 

Windsor's chief building official, John Revell, said his team met with consultants hired by Westcourt Place's insurance company about three weeks ago to get a sense of the building's structural issues,

"It does involve a lot of smoke damage, toxic smoke damage, and there is some structural damage inside of the building," said Revell. "It triggers a host of other issues inside of the building because it is an older building, it would need to be upgraded to current standards under the building codes."

Revell explained that the building dates back to 1970, and at that time was up to building standards. But building codes change regularly, and in 2020, that means significant work to bring the building up to today's codes.

"The only time that this type of upgrading is required is when there's extensive renovation taking place," he said. "So unfortunately when there is an event like this where there is a disaster and damage done to the building it triggers those types of renovations."

Chris Ensing/CBC

For the building's tenants — those renovations can't come soon enough. 

"A lot of my stuff is still there," said Jaret Chalmers, who has had a difficult time finding a new place to stay since the Nov. 12 blaze. He said it's been tough to find a new place downtown, because there are waiting lists for apartments.

And he said he was told by management has to be out of Westcourt in March. 

"I'm going to have to probably find a storage unit or something for it, because they're telling us we have to be out by the end of March."

Dale Molnar/CBC

Revell, Mayor Drew Dilkens, and other city officials met with about six other tenants on Wednesday at City hall to hear their concerns.

"We had a great discussion in terms of what the options are and what the city is prepared to do to help assist that building owner in a timely way to get the building back in operation," said Dilkens. "Certainly some of the concerns that they're seeing with respect to finding alternate accommodations and the price increase that they're seeing with those other accommodations."

The mayor said he sympathizes with tenants and the long 90 days they have had, but that "it's not just an easy fix where you would wash down the walls," saying the city is not sure how long the renovations will take. 

Sharon Strosberg is a lawyer for Strosberg, Sasso Sutts LLP, part of a class action lawsuit against Westcourt.

"The packing, the moving, the storing and the returning to Westcourt will be at the expense of the tenants," she said. "We don't agree ... Westcourt under these circumstances should bear those expenses upfront."

Strosberg said 18 people signed a document saying they were terminating their lease and had the tenants take responsibility for cleaning their items, and to not hold Westcourt responsible to clean them.

Stacey Janzer/CBC

Last week, a justice ordered that those who signed that previous document would only have signed off on terminating their lease, and that they would remove their own items.

Because Westcourt is not paying for their moves or items to be cleaned, Strosberg said many tenants will probably elect to move elsewhere. but she said that will be difficult as Westcourt is quite reasonably priced for the area. 

"They don't have their homes they don't have their stuff, they can't go home, some of them are injured. We think that the net affect of asking them to move at their own expense will cause them to terminate their leases," she said. "They're vulnerable people."

A representative for Westcourt said they have no updates to provide at this point.