More than 100 James Bay tenants file disputes over ongoing renovations
A group of tenants living in James Bay say their safety is being ignored while their apartment buildings are under renovation – and they want the province to do something about it.
Four buildings, owned by Starlight Investments, have been the site of ongoing construction for the last two years, according to tenants.
They say they're routinely dealing with scaffolding set up around buildings, tarps placed over windows and patio doors and balconies without railings.
"It's been two years so far and there's no end in sight. Tenants have reached a breaking point," said Paul Mitchell, who lives in Charter House on Michigan Street. "This work has been handled incredibly poorly so tenants have been exposed to just a dramatic disruption in their suites."
One-hundred and five of the tenants filed documents over the weekend to begin the dispute process through the Residential Tenancy Branch, hoping to have their rent reduced while construction continues.
"None of us thrive on injustice, and there is a great deal of injustice involved here," said Dorothy Wood, who lives in another Starlight-owned building at 360 Douglas Street.
In the two years the renovations have been underway, noise has been a common complaint – as have obstruction of views and dust.
Tenants also fear once the work on the buildings is complete, they'll be pushed out.
"It's pretty easy to make an argument that these cosmetic upgrades were not needed, and were just part of their process of branding the building, of driving out tenants, and a justification to increase rent," said Mitchell. "As far as I know they did it in all 97 of their buildings in Ontario."
Starlight Investments provided a statement to CTV News saying the company was "committed to ensure construction is done with as minimal interruption and inconvenience as possible for our residents and neighbours."
It said crews were working to complete the work as quickly as possible, and "the enjoyment of our residents must always remain our biggest priority."
Tenants allege rent has gone up while the renovations have been underway.
Existing tenants are paying about $1,000 for a one-bedroom suite, while the same renovated suites are going for about $1,500.
"Their goal is to extract as much wealth as possible from these buildings," said Mitchell.
Tenants say their experience highlights gaps in the system, using the example of WorkSafe BC, which protects workers during construction.
There is no agency to protect tenants' well-being and safety during renovation and construction work.
"I would like to see the Residential Tenancy Branch take a more proactive approach in investigating large-scale building-wide complaints," said Emily Rogers, a legal advocate with the Together Against Poverty Society.
An arbitrator with the branch will now hear both sides of the case for each claim filed to determine an outcome.