Ten­ants’ heat turned off

Down­town apart­ment dwellers shiv­ered for hours on Di­rect En­ergy or­ders as owner failed to pay up

Edmonton Journal - - CITY PLUS - ELI S E STOLTE ED­MON­TON es­tolte@the­jour­nal.canwest.com

Ten­ants of a down­town Ed­mon­ton apart­ment build­ing were shiver­ing in heavy sweaters and coats Thurs­day evening af­ter nat­u­ral gas was shut off be­cause the owner hadn’t paid his bills.

Scott En­nis, pres­i­dent of the ten­ants’ as­so­ci­a­tion, said a pink pa­per slip from Atco Gas was found tucked into the in­ter­com sys­tem Thurs­day af­ter­noon, warn­ing that the gas was cut at the re­quest of re­tailer Di­rect En­ergy be­cause of un­paid bills.

“If it gets too much colder, I’ll have to start check­ing on some of the older peo­ple,” En­nis said be­fore the gas was turned back on about 8 p.m. as the tem­per­a­ture slipped be­low –20 C.

“We’ve got old peo­ple who can’t even leave their suites.”

En­nis said he and the build­ing man­ager worked all day to con­vince Atco to re­con­nect it, he said.

By Thurs­day night, Atco vi­cepres­i­dent Bill Stephens said the com­pany will be in­ves­ti­gat­ing why gas was shut off in the first place. “Cer­tainly, it would not be our in­ten­tion to shut off a res­i­den­tial prop­erty (in the win­ter). We’re cer­tainly very con­cerned.”

Ten­ants are point­ing fin­gers at Wor­thing­ton Prop­er­ties, which also owned a pulp mill the B.C. gov­ern­ment de­clared an en­vi­ron­men­tal emer­gency in Jan­uary be­cause the aban­doned chlo­rine tanks threat­ened to burst.

Wor­thing­ton Prop­er­ties is still listed as the owner of En­nis’s apart­ment build­ing, a low-in­come hous­ing tower at 10128 105th Av­enue, right be­side the Boyle Street drop-in cen­tre.

The owner can’t be found, En­nis said. As for the con­tracted man­agers, they’re stuck in the mid­dle.

“They don’t know if they’re get­ting paid from cheque to cheque,” said ten­ant Pat Lloyd.

Half a dozen ten­ants gath­ered around a kitchen ta­ble in a com­mon drop-in room Thurs­day evening. The oven was set to 400 F. En­nis stood by the open door and warmed his hands. His girl­friend brought in a plate of fresh cook­ies.

The tem­per­a­ture was 17 Cin the of­fice just around the cor­ner, but some suites were get­ting re­ally cold, En­nis said. The build­ing lacks up­keep and many of the win­dows don’t close.

There’s a five-cen­time­tre gap at the bot­tom of Re­nata Ostertag’s win­dow, said the woman, a thick sweater peak­ing out un­der her scarf and win­ter jacket. “But I have a lit­tle space heater so I’ll be OK.” Ward 4 Coun. Ben Hen­der­son said prob­lems with land­lords and ten­ants is pro­vin­cial ju­ris­dic­tion, but added that he would make what­ever phone calls he could on the ten­ants’ be­half.

“I thought there were laws, at least in the win­ter, against that,” he said when he learned about the sit­u­a­tion Thurs­day night. “It’s an alarm­ing story. In the win­ter­time, I’m very sur­prised th­ese things hap­pen.”

Di­rect En­ergy spokes­woman Lisa Frizzell said, like Atco, it’s not their pol­icy to dis­con­nect res­i­den­tial cus­tomers dur­ing the win­ter, but the ac­count was listed as com­mer­cial and the com­pany had been work­ing with Wor­thing­ton Prop­er­ties for six months al­ready.

Ac­counts don’t gen­er­ally spec­ify if com­mer­cial means a fac­tory, of­fice build­ing or apart­ment, she said. “We’re go­ing to re­view our poli­cies and pro­cesses as well.”

It’s not the first time heat has been shut off for ten­ants of a build­ing owned by Wor­thing­ton Prop­er­ties. Two weeks ago, the gas was cut at the Kelly Ram­sey Build­ing at 10048 101A Av­enue, said Mi­lan Sva­jgr, man­ager of the Bistro Praha restau­rant.

The three street-level restau­rants in the build­ing banded to­gether to come up with the $20,000 to pay off the bill and get their busi­nesses go­ing again, he said. “It’s not our re­spon­si­bil­ity. It’s not a very good sit­u­a­tion.”

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