Lethbridge’s Chief Fire Marshall Heath Wright announced Thursday that two people had been charged after a fire in an illegal basement suite last July killed a 50-year-old man and his dog.
“I would just like to remind individuals, property owners, contractors and landlords that this is a very, very serious violation of the fire code,” Wright said. “And that is the reason that we’re here today.”
Read more: Man, dog dead after Lethbridge house fire
The charges involve several violations to the Alberta fire code including: improper bedroom exit windows, lack of smoke alarms, no carbon monoxide alarms and no fire separations for the furnace room — amounting to a potential fine of up to $100,000 and/or six months in jail.
“It is the owner’s responsibility to understand the laws– it’s not the fire department’s, it’s not the renters’,” Wright said. “It is the owners of these rental properties.”
Matt Hemmerling with Braemore Management said they manage upwards of 700 suites which they inspect twice yearly. He adds that they’ve seen a number of ill-equipped suites over the years as well.
He said delaying or forgoing upgrades isn’t saving owners money in the long run.
“There certainly are a handful of illegal basement suites and it’s too bad because, for property owners, it’s two fold.
“Not only is it great to market your property as a ‘legal suite,’ but for the most part, it also would demand more rent for them as well,” he said. “Looking after the safety of the tenants and being able to make a little bit more revenue for yourself… it just makes sense from an owner’s standpoint.”
Hemmerling urged owners to be prepared.
“Just be preventative,” he said. “You don’t want to wait for something bad to happen and then look at what your options are.
Lethbridge officials say the city has provided around $500,000 in grant money to property owners for upgrades to spaces like this between 2009 and 2019.
“The incentives were there,” Wright said. “This law has been in place for about 13 years now. So it’s an unfortunate situation, but we’re taking this time to make sure the message is out and we’re very serious.”
While the case is before the court, Wright said they will not be releasing more details about the case or the names of the accused, but he hopes more people will take this tragedy as a solemn reminder.