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Displaced St. James Town residents begin lawsuit proceedings after highrise fire

Residents of an apartment building that went up in flames last week are snapping up donated goods for back-to-school, just as the initial stages of a class-action lawsuit against management kicks off. Kamil Karamali reports.

The gymnasium of the Rosedale Day School in Toronto’s St. James Town district has been transformed into somewhat of a department store, with clothes, backpacks and school supplies all laid out on rows of tables.

It’s also got all the hustle and bustle you’d normally expect during the back-to-school shopping season, except all of the customers have one thing in common — they’re all displaced residents of 650 Parliament.

“I’m so grateful what’s being done by the city and the Red Cross,” said Mohan Abadi.

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He, his two children and pregnant wife were some of the roughly 1,500 residents left homeless after a six-alarm fire tore through the 650 Parliament Street apartment building on Aug. 21.

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On Tuesday, Mayor John Tory had made a public plea for clothing and financial donations — and Toronto delivered.

“I would say by 36 hours, we probably had enough to accommodate the initial commitment which was a set of clothing and shoes for every child — which is 320 kids, and now we have way in excess of that,” said Tory.

Every family displaced by the highrise fire was allowed to walk out of the gym with 20 items.

But many of the residents are looking for a lot more than that, with a lot of uncertainty revolving around their living situations.

Many of them have been staying at hotels, but were kicked out for the Labour Day long weekend since many of the rooms were booked.

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Abadi says his family had to leave their hotel on Friday and will only be able to stay at their current accomodations until late September.

READ MORE: Displaced St. James Town tenants frustrated by waiver to access units

“My wife… is nine months pregnant, high-risk pregnancy,” said Abadi. “She will definitely have the baby before the 22nd of September, and we’re going to have our baby in a motel. It’s very pathetic to think of this sort of thing.”

Mayor Tory was swarmed by concerned residents on his way to the school, where the donated goods were kept. Many of them asked the city to step in and do more.

Hicham Jbara showed the mayor how much his hand was shaking from stress and anger because he and his wife aren’t sure what their next move will be.

“Myself on Tuesday, I don’t know where I’ m going to go. I had a heart attack three months ago,” said Jbara. “I don’t need another heart attack.”

John Tory said the city is helping the landlord, who is trying to find apartments for the residents. But they are only able to find them “10 at a time.”

“If there’s a cost involved, we’re going to send [the landlord] a bill,” said Tory. “If they don’t pay the bill, we’re going to add it to their property taxes or commence legal action.”

READ MORE: Displaced residents of 650 Parliament St. protest lack of landlord help 10 days after fire

“I realize there’s frustration… that we can’t act faster,” added Tory. “In the city, you know it’s tight. So finding apartment and other hotel rooms is a challenge for us, but we’re addressing that challenge.”

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Tory adds that of the 1,500 displaced residents, about half of them found places to stay with friends and families. Approximately 700 need temporary homes in hotels or rental units. Out of that number, about 200 are in “an uncertain state.”

“The goal is to have everybody housed better than a community center,” said Tory. “But at the very least, people will be in community center where they are well fed or well looked after.”

Now, two law firms have combined forces to kick-start the initial stages of a class-action lawsuit, on behalf all the residents, against the building management and Toronto Hydro.

“Strength is in numbers in an action like this. It’s not economically feasible for one individual to commence a lawsuit because, relatively speaking, each individual does not have an enormous claim to pursue,” said Sharon Strosberg, partner at Strosberg Sasso Sutts LLP.

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Strosberg, who has also partnered with Charney Lawyers, adds that the plaintiff(s) will be seeking monetary reimbursement, but the extent of that depends on how long they’re out of their homes.

“As we understand… what kind of losses they’re incurring, I’ll be able to know more as the story unfolds, could be two months could be six months, we don’t know right now,” said Strosberg.

The Notice of Action filed says the plaintiff(s) claims $20 million in “general damages and the cost of administering the plan of distribution of the recovering this action” and $10 million in “special damages, pecuniary damages, aggravated damages and punitive damages.”

Strosberg says the next step is to file a statement of claim within the next 30 days, where a judge will then determine whether it’s appropriate to move forward with the case as a class-action lawsuit.

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