1 Year Later: 650 Parliament residents still trying to get back on their feet

Residents are still not able to access their apartments, one year after the fire at 650 Parliament Street. Global News

The Ontario fire marshal has now determined the cause of the fire at 650 Parliament one year ago was due to a “catastrophic electrical failure” within the building’s system.

“It was an older [electrical] system,” said fire investigator Chris ter Stege, who said a newer model would likely have not resulted in a fire.
“Just think of your toaster. The current is allowing it to increase the temperature of the wires, so the wires itself heats up. So that is exactly what [happened] to the electrical circuits in the building: the heat is up until any combustible items are allowed to ignite.”

Ter Stege adds that their investigation was unable to determine where the fire began.

“To narrow it down to one area would be inappropriate to say because it’s such a massive building,” said ter Stege.

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“It’s kind of like the chicken or the egg — did it start within the electrical panel or the main transformer?”

READ MORE: Residents of Toronto’s 650 Parliament St. apartment unable to return until autumn

Meanwhile, the approximately 1,500 residents of the building are still waiting to return to their units one year after the blaze.

Mark Slapinski has moved five times in the past year ⁠— including staying at his grandmother’s home and two hotels ⁠— since he and his roommate had to evacuate their rented unit at 650 Parliament Street because of a massive electrical fire.

“Honestly, it’s been a really surreal year,” said Slapinski. “I could’ve never imagined living at a hotel or living with my grandma or the possibility of being homeless.”

Now he lives with his same roommate just down the street from the empty building at another high-rise run by the same management company.

Slapinski adds he’s paying the same rent at 77 Howard Street as he was at his old unit at 650 Parliament, but left feeling like he’s not getting any answers on when he can return to his unit.

“Personally it has an effect,” said Slapinski. “Mentally, I’ll think we’re going to go back at the end of August and you try and plan around that and then you realize it’s not happening at the end of August.

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“It just kind of gives you this feeling that we’re never going to go back or go back anytime soon.”

It was exactly one year ago that a six-alarm fire in St. James Town tore through 650 Parliament, forcing the roughly 1,500 residents to evacuate the building’s two towers.

Wellseley Parliament Square management had continuously announced dates when tenants could return, but has pushed it back multiple times.

Last week, management spokesperson Danny Roth said residents won’t get to move back into their units until November.

READ MORE: Another fire breaks out at 650 Parliament St. highrise

He added that 65 per cent of the reconstruction work has been completed, at a cost of between $50 to $60 million.

“I’m not happy with the management,” said Rehan Reshamwalla, who is now living at another property, 280 Wellesley, which is owned by the same group.

“But whatever they’ve given me now temporarily at 280, I don’t have any issue with that. I’m not fully satisfied and I’m not unsatisfied; I’m okay.”

He initially had to move into a hotel room. Then he moved his wife and two children to a two-bedroom unit with another family, where all eight people shared one bathroom for about a month and a half.

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“That was difficult,” said Reshamwalla.

He said the management company moved his family to another unit in early October of 2018, where his family has been since.

WATCH: (July 10) Second fire at St. James Town apartment concerns displaced tenants

Click to play video 'Second fire at St. Jamestown apartment concerns displaced tenants' Second fire at St. Jamestown apartment concerns displaced tenants
Second fire at St. Jamestown apartment concerns displaced tenants – Jul 10, 2019

Reshamwalla still plans to move his family back to 650 Parliament when the reconstruction work is complete.

Meanwhile, at least one tenant, Yulia Tomash, is suing the management company for its handling of the aftermath of the fire at 650 Parliament.

“She wants compensation for not living at her place of residence,” said Tomash’s lawyer, Vadim Kats. “It’s a matter of inconvenience, moving around from one place to another. She had to sleep at a friend’s house and then sleep on a couch with her four-year-old daughter and then her landlord placed her at a residence that was much smaller than before.”

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Meanwhile, he said his client’s daughter hasn’t been able to find a school to attend near their current place of residence.

“She’s suing for mental distress,” said Kats.

READ MORE: Residents of 650 Parliament have rental assistance extended for 6 months

“Things that she lost in the apartment, there were things that got destroyed, her personal properties. There were thefts in the building after the fire so she lost a lot of things of value after the fire. Her daughter got anxiety as well.

“Her daughter couldn’t sleep; she was crying.”

Meanwhile, two law firms have combined forces to start a class-action lawsuit against the building management.

The Office of the Fire Marshal said it is planning on releasing its findings on the investigation into the electrical fire.