Ottawa Balcony Case Shows Need for Proactive Inspection of Rental Properties
While it is encouraging to see the City of Ottawa is following through on balcony complaints, tenants will continue to live in unsafe housing conditions.
The collapsed balcony on Beausoleil Dr was reported to be covered with a material which led to the wood rotting underneath, therefore, by all outward appearances, the balcony appeared safe, otherwise six people would not have ventured out onto it at the time it collapsed.
What is flawed in a complaint-driven system is that there are often cases such as this one where the tenant may not even be aware that a complaint should or needs to be made.
Although Susan Jones, the director of bylaw services, indicated she had never seen a balcony collapse in many years, I do recall the brick façade of a rental building on Metcalfe Street came crumbling down onto the sidewalk below just last fall. No injuries occurred thankfully, but the bricks did fall on a sidewalk.
As the rental stock gets older in the central core, I believe these rare occurrences may become less and less rare if not balconies, then other major deficiencies such as a roof collapsing or health threatening issues such as mold.
The Somerset Ward was plagued with residential fires several years ago, yet it wasn't until a family of five lost their lives in a tragic fire due to a lack of smoke detectors that the city became more proactive in doing frequent ongoing inspections to ensure smoke detectors are working in rental units.
We are now repeating history with serious maintenance deficiencies, leading to serious injury or death.
The other problem with the complaint-driven system is that tenants often fear reprisal from their landlords after a complaint is made. For example, it is not uncommon for tenants to receive an eviction notice shortly after a complaint has been made to the city.
Now is the time to reflect on ways to ensure that every tenant has a safe home and address ways to implement more proactive measures to inspect these buildings and prevent further tragedies from occurring. A good place to start is to bring in more stringent regulations of maintenance and inspections of rental properties.