When LD Blake found out his landlord would be sending workers into apartments in his building to measure and install new blinds, the 69-year-old was naturally concerned.
Blake, who lives at 165 Ontario St., said despite the number of new COVID-19 cases reaching new records in the province, building management has decided to move forward with a non-essential renovation that would require workers enter the majority of the 156-unit, nine-storey building on two separate occasions.
“What they are doing now is they are going floor by floor and they are replacing all the blinds in every unit,” Blake said. “The big concern here is that they are sending people into occupied apartments in the middle of a pandemic.”
Workers began taking measurements unit by unit on Oct. 1, and when complete, will return for installation.
Blake said he has addressed his concerns with the site administrator, who informed him the work would proceed regardless of tenants’ wishes.
“The answer I got back was that ownership has decided to continue with the installation of the blinds. Until we hear from the government or health officials that we are no longer in Stage 3, things will proceed.”
While the work being done does not violate any regional or provincial health orders, Blake questions the timing of what is a non-essential cosmetic improvement, especially given the number of seniors and high-risk individuals who currently live in the building.
“There are a number of people in this building with health problems. There are seniors here with diabetes, there are people have compromised immune systems. For someone like that, it doesn’t take much of a viral load to make them sick.”
According to Blake, the measurement is estimated to take between five and 10 minutes, while the installation of the blinds themselves could take over an hour, and will require a multi-person crew to complete.
Private residences are not included in Niagara’s mask bylaw, which means the onus is on homeowners, or in this case, the landlord to do their due diligence when hiring a contractor.
Joe Degiuli, a public health inspector team lead for Niagara Region, said the best thing to do is ask questions to ensure the contractor coming in will be working in a safe and responsible manner.
“When you are contracting something out to have someone come into your place, you want to feel comfortable with what they are putting in place. How they are protecting the people who live there and the employees themselves?”
Dugiuli said from a public health perspective, any company sending workers into homes should ensure all necessary precautions are being taken, including making sure workers are equipped with the proper personal protective equipment, have been screened prior to entering the residence, and also ensuring the tenants of that residence are not symptomatic.
So what happens when the rights of a landlord clash with the interests of a tenant who many feel uncomfortable with workers entering their home during a pandemic?
Blake said, masked or not, he’s not comfortable with any outside workers coming into his apartment, adding the sheer size of the job could cause could an outbreak across the entire building.
“They could cause building-wide contamination here, and this building is home to over 300 people. There is a very high risk of an outbreak here.”
St. Catharines MPP Jennie Stevens said she would like to find a way to protect tenants safety in cases such as these, where landlords choose to do non-essential work during a pandemic against the wishes of residents.
“Just because we are in Stage 3 doesn’t mean that these landlords can’t work with the tenants to say we are going to make sure you are safe, and not have people coming into your home.”
Stevens went on to say she would be interested in following up on the case at 165 Ontario St. directly with property management, and hopefully find a solution that respects the safety of Blake and other tenants
“Public health is asking all of us to work together, to make sure that we look after the safety of each other. We all have to have some compassion for people living in these buildings.”
Despite multiple attempts, Northview Apartment Reit, the company that operates the Garden City Apartments at 165 Ontario St., could not be reached for comment on this story.
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