Landlord, tenants trapped in slum

Daljeet Dhillon resents being called a slumlord. “We don’t want those druggie people in the building,” said the co-owner of 410…

Daljeet Dhillon resents being called a slumlord.

“We don’t want those druggie people in the building,” said the co-owner of 410 Strickland.

“Right now, I’d rather keep places empty than have those druggie people.”

The 29-unit apartment building was relatively quiet on Thursday evening.

The hallway carpets were spattered with patches of grease and other unidentifiable stains.

A bunch of French fries sat on the stairwell for weeks, said Mary, a tenant who asked not to be identified because she feared eviction.

“There’s a nice girl who comes and does a wonderful job, but then there’s weeks with no public vacuuming, and the laundry room is filthy.”

Twice a week, a cleaner is sent to the apartment building, said Dhillon.

“The carpet is dirty, but you have 29 people walking in and out and with snow outside …,” she said.

The carpet is the same age as the building, which was built by the Dhillons about 20 years ago.

“Someone must have dragged something down here,” she added, noting black streaks down the second-floor hall.

Tenants have been hauling “junk from the Salvation Army” into the building. Thursday, Dhillon put a stop to it.

The slight woman slipped notes under every apartment door warning tenants junk found in the hall or the laundry room could possibly result in eviction.

The laundry room was piled high with greasy couches and torn kitchen chairs with exposed stuffing.

A while ago, Dhillon discovered a couple of homeless men drinking beer and sleeping on the furniture tenants had removed from their apartments.

“They’re not allowed to change the furniture,” said Dhillon, who rents furnished units, complete with plates and a TV.

“The furniture is disgusting,” said Louise, another tenant afraid of identifying herself because of possible eviction.

“The couches and mattresses are full of pee and blood.”

And the carpets are filthy, added Mary.

“No one goes barefoot, or even in socks in this building,” she said.

“We all have to wear slippers or shoes in our own home.

“I would be afraid to have my grandchildren play on the carpets in my apartment, and I steam-clean them twice a year.

“My whole apartment stinks of pee,” added Louise.

“If you tested the carpets you’d find mould and human waste.”

In the dumpster outside the building, a mattress sat at an angle.

“It’s a brand new mattress that was peed on,” said Dhillon, shaking her head.

“It’s really upsetting.”

The mattress came from a bachelor apartment on the second floor. Dhillon had just evicted the tenant, she said.

“He hadn’t paid his rent in months, and the place was full of booze.”

Two pink armchairs, black with grease on the arms and torn in places, sat haphazardly in the empty living room.

The chairs may be left for the next tenant, if they clean up, said Dhillon scratching at the black grime with her fingernail, leaving little white streaks.

Pulling one armchair away from the wall, she noted a coating of black hair and dust covering the electric heater.

The carpet was pockmarked with burn holes and stains.

There was mildew on the bathroom ceiling and the cold water tap spun in circles, uselessly.

Window trim was pitched in a corner, and the fridge lacked a freezer door (it was an old model where the freezer is inside the fridge).

The door might be back there, said Dhillon, pointing behind the fridge, where unidentified objects lay in a black forest of dust and food.

There’s no point getting the government rebate and installing more energy-efficient fridges, said Dhillon.

“Because it would just look like this in a few months.

“This is how they leave it,” she said, opening a drawer to discover mummified potatoes.

“Now we have to come and clean all this.

“We can put new things in here today, and two months from now it will be the same thing,” she added, opening what was a new microwave, now caked with grease and unidentifiable food.

“This is what we deal with,” she said.

But the places aren’t clean when tenants move in, said Mary.

“We’re being moved in on top of other people’s filth.”

It took Mary weeks to scrub the yellow slime out of her bathroom, she said.

And the kitchen was so full of grease she kept her food and dishes in cardboard boxes for three weeks, until she finally managed to clean it.

The place was all that Mary could find within a social assistance budget, she said.

The apartments include, heat, hot water, electricity and basic cable. Bachelors are $700 a month and one-bedrooms are $800.

In terms of cost and location, it was the best choice, added Louise, who sprayed her bed with Raid and Lysol the night she moved in.

Both women are hoping to find better housing.

“Just because you’re low-income doesn’t mean you should have to give up your dignity,” said Louise.

“I’m very grateful to have a warm place to live,” said Mary.

“And I believe the building has the capacity to be a good place to live — it’s just we’re the victims of slumlords caught in a political system that does not care about the tenants.”

Mary is on a Yukon Housing waitlist.

When she asked the Dhillons for a reference letter, she was denied.

“I was told they don’t provide that for anybody,” she said.

“And without a reference letter after years in one spot, it’s hard to find another place — landlords are suspicious.”

Yukon Housing understood the problem, added Mary.

“They said they’d dealt with this situation before with the Dhillons.”

There are places in Riverdale and Porter Creek, but then the cost of living goes up, because public transit stops at 6 p.m. and cabs are expensive, said Louise.

Dhillon gets about 50 calls a day about apartments, but she is wary.

“There’s enough housing (in Whitehorse), but there’s not enough good tenants,” she said.

And the Yukon Landlord and Tenant Act is not strong enough, added Dhillon, who’s had the tops (including the change canisters) stolen off her washing machines three times.

“People can come in and ruin the place and I can’t do anything.

“I have at least 10 people in small claims court right now. But they’re on welfare — where are they going to get the money?”

There are some scary people living in the building, said Mary, who’s been there for years.

“But you have a lot of people like us — good tenants.”

And the Dhillons don’t treat us well, she said.

When the ceiling fell into her bathtub, because of flooding upstairs, Mary called the Dhillons.

They hung up on her, she said.

One apartment had yellowed cracks in the plaster above the shower.

“It’s from them plugging up the bathtub upstairs,” said Dhillon.

But ceilings don’t fall into the bathtubs, she said. “That’s bloody bullshit.”

The Dhillons just spent $10,000 changing the pipes and the drywall in the halls and another $10,000 on new hot-water tanks.

The building lost hot water for 13 days in January, forcing the repairs.

“That was a long time,” said Mary.

“And we got no response from the landlords.

“There are people without mobility in this building, and one guy on oxygen, and it was really hard on them.”

Mary approached Health to make a complaint, but was told she needed to give her name and address.

“There was no anonymity, and that scared the heck out of me,” she said.

“I’m so afraid to talk because being homeless is scary, and I’d have been evicted for sure.

“And it feels terrible to be afraid to speak out, especially in this country where one of our privileges is to speak out.”

Dhillon wanted to know who was complaining.

“If they’re complaining they should have the guts to come see me, rather than go to the paper,” she said.

“And if they don’t like it, then they should move out — there are lots of places to rent,” said Dhillon, mentioning the new condos going for about $1,200 a month.

And if they can’t afford those, and “want reasonable stuff, then they should respect that reasonable stuff.”

When the Dhillons built the apartments, they didn’t imagine it would be “this bad.”

 “I’m tired of it,” she said.

“I don’t have to listen to people’s bullshit — I don’t have to listen to drunk people.

“I work hard 13 to 14 hours a day.

“I wish I was sitting at home.”

(See related story on page 6)