Tenants’ heat turned off
Downtown apartment dwellers shivered for hours on Direct Energy orders as owner failed to pay up
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.”