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City of Calgary must protect displaced residents

November 30 2017 —

Calgary’s rental market is baffling, to say the least. Calgary is not only the only major Canadian city without a streamlined application process for secondary suites, but it’s also now a city where apartment buildings almost collapse on their residents.

On Nov. 23, the 125 residents of Kensington Manor, along with a Running Room operating on the ground floor, were told to evacuate after an engineer declared the building unfit for inhabitants earlier that day. Some were only given 10 minutes notice by emergency crews.

The only formal notification about this was a letter slipped under tenants’ doors that day stating repairs would take anywhere from six months to several years to complete. The letter also said that residents would have two weeks to properly move out, yet the city hustled residents out later that evening. Residents are now playing the waiting game to find out when they can re-enter their homes to pack the rest of their belongings.

The landlords reimbursed tenants the remainder of November’s rent and their damage deposits, as well as $250. With many tenants struggling to find affordable accommodation on short notice, only two hotels in the area were willing to lower their rates for the displaced residents. As well, the city recommended affected individuals seek help from the Calgary Housing Company, which has previously had a waitlist exceeding 1,000 people. All of these solutions failed to provide the 125 residents with feasible short- or long-term options.

At one point, these residents must have been thrilled to live in one of Calgary’s liveliest neighbourhoods. Now they’re displaced with the few belongings they could grab. No tenant should ever have to endure this, especially when it could have been avoided.

The landlords of Kensington Manor were aware of structural issues regarding the building’s balconies earlier this year, even warning residents not to place anything on their balconies to prevent additional damage. They eventually placed a request for a permit to complete exterior upgrades, which was approved on March 28, but the building needed to be inspected before any construction began. Even though a permit was issued to do this on April 24, it took the city seven months to complete the inspection.

When the city puts copious amounts of effort into approving secondary suites one-by-one during council, one would think they would put as much care into the maintenance of units as large as Kensington Manor, which is listed as having a real estate value of $8.9 million. Yet it’s clear that the maintenance of residential buildings is not the city’s priority. It falls to the tenants to report any bylaw issues or breaches under Alberta Health’s Minimum Housing and Health Standards to the City of Calgary. Until these reports are filed, landlords can conceivably get off scot-free for any structural issues or environmental hazards that create unsafe living situations.

As many students are aware, when you live in an apartment building, you pay for building maintenance, as well as insurance for any unpredictable circumstances. Landlords are already paid to provide these services to their tenants and shouldn’t receive a simple slap on the wrist for opting out of their duties. Through all of this, it’s the tenants that have to deal with the consequences of their city’s failure to provide a system where landlords are held accountable to provide safe dwellings. This situation could have been deadly for those living at Kensington Manor, so it’s important for Calgary to start following through with their rental reforms and make tangible progress.

Mariah Wilson, Gauntlet Editorial Board

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