Owner of Toronto rooming house where woman died in fire ordered to pay $1.3M

The jury found that the smoke alarms weren't working and there was only one way to get out of the basement. File / Global News

TORONTO – The owner of an illegal Toronto rooming house that was the scene of a deadly fire has been ordered to pay the victim’s family more than $1.3 million after a jury in a civil trial found him responsible for her death.

The jury in Milton found that Konstantin Lysenko’s negligence – and that of his numbered corporation – led to the death of Alisha Lamers, who suffered fatal injuries on Nov. 20, 2013, when she was trapped in the burning basement unit she had been renting. She died a few days later on Nov. 24 at the age of 24.

Lysenko failed to prepare and implement a safety plan for the building and didn’t maintain working smoke detectors, the jury found. Court also heard there were bars over the basement windows, preventing Lamers from escaping through them.

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“The jury was very clear in their findings that he was completely negligent, and that the negligence caused Alisha’s death,” said Michael Smitiuch, the lawyer representing Lamers’ family. “If he doesn’t get that now, he’ll never get it.”

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Lysenko, who did not respond to requests for comment, had argued in a statement of defence – and again in court – that it was not his responsibility to keep the property up to code.

But in 2015, he was convicted of violations of the fire code and fined $75,000.

Click to play video: 'Two firefighters injured, one critical, while battling downtown blaze'
Two firefighters injured, one critical, while battling downtown blaze

Smitiuch said the house was one of four that Lysenko owned. Eight people were living there, and the property was bringing in roughly $48,000 a year at the time of Lamers’ death.

He said the decision sends a strong message to those hoping to make a quick buck during an affordable housing crisis.

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“If you’re going to operate a business renting to tenants for money, you’d better make sure that it’s safe. Their lives depend on it,” he said.

A spokesman for Toronto Fire Services said the agency has charged 226 people or corporations with operating rooming houses in violation of the fire code since the beginning of 2014.

Click to play video: 'Person dead following garage fire in Mississauga'
Person dead following garage fire in Mississauga

“In this case, if this guy would have licensed the rooming house, there would have been inspections that would have been done to make sure the apartment was fire code-compliant,” Smitiuch said. “That would have made the difference.”

The jury awarded Lamers’ parents $250,000 each for loss of companionship – which Smitiuch noted is $100,000 more than what’s previously been awarded for the loss of one’s child – and $250,000 each for mental distress. For future cost of care, the jury awarded her mother $151,200 and her father $174,800.

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It’s not clear whether Lysenko will appeal the decision or the penalties.

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