No heat and no standards — the state of the low income rental market

Last week, Erick Olsen awoke to discover his infant son’s hands and feet were blue from the cold.

Last week, Erick Olsen awoke to discover his infant son’s hands and feet were blue from the cold.

During last week’s cold snap, the pipes in his shabby Riverdale apartment had frozen and the heat had failed.

The problems took his landlords, NirPinder and Daljeet Dhillon, three days to fix, said Olsen on Thursday.

“(The heat) first went out and Mr. Dhillon came by,” said Olsen, who lives at 20 Klondike Drive with his son Richard and partner Christine Rafter.

“(Dhillon) noticed it because one of the other tenants had called him and he came by to check on it.

“His thing to do was to take a standard space heater and put it against the pipe to try to thaw it out instead of calling the serviceman to do it the right way.”

The heat was out for about three days, during which time the couple bundled their baby in as much clothing as possible and heated their apartment with space heaters and their oven.

“Unless we had the stove and the other heaters turned on, it was the same temperature that it was outside,” he said.

“We wrapped (the baby) up and put him in the bed with us, pretty much anything we could do to keep him warm.

“It was really bad.”

The problem started near the entrance to the $900 a month, two-bedroom apartment, he said, pointing to the door that had cracks of sunlight peaking through strips of Duct Tape acting as a seal.

The heating problem was only fixed after his partner Christine’s grandmother, Melvina Miller, talked to Dhillon directly, he said.

“After two days (Miller), talked to Mr. Dhillon for us and he finally got a service guy in here for us. It took (a total of three days from the time of freezing) to get it done.”

He and his family would like to find a better place to live, but they are on social assistance, times are tight and they’re having problems getting work and former-landlord references, said Olsen.

Other tenants declined interviews.

Miller couldn’t believe that her granddaughter and her family had to live without heat.

And she can’t believe the state of the apartment considering the monthly rent, said Miller on Thursday.

“They’re living below acceptable standards and they’re paying top-notch rent,” said Miller.

“My main question would be: Why are landlords allowed to collect high rents, put people in there and not fix up their buildings.

“(The Dhillons’) places are unsafe. They’ve got the windows nailed shut and doors are not closing properly; I’d like to see some standards in Yukon.”

Last week, tenants in another Dhillon-owned property, 410 Strickland Street, said their 29-unit apartment building lost its hot water on January 12th and that it took Dhillon 13 days to have it fixed.

That’s not true, said Nirpinder Dhillon on Friday morning.

It took six days, and that’s because the parts he ordered were late in arriving in Whitehorse, he said.

Yes, some of his buildings have problems from time to time, but tenants often cause them, said Dhillon.

The freeze up at Klondike was the fault of Olsen and his family, he said.

“In winter, when they open the door, sometimes they leave it open and the heating pipe goes right beside that door,” he said, referring to the couple’s front door.

“They left the door open and the pipes froze.

“I told them they were supposed to use the other door. It’s the door that leads inside the building.”

He tries his best to keep his properties in good shape and frequently has them repaired, said Dhillon.

He doesn’t feel $900 is expensive for Olsen’s apartment because it includes utilities, he added.

Some of the Dhillons’ accommodations need work, but the people living in them should be grateful, said Kurt Moritz, the man who fixed Olsen’s plumbing and who has been doing work for the Dhillons for 15 years.

Mortiz was speaking from the Hillcrest duplex he lives in, which is owned by Dhillon.

“A lot of these people don’t have the job references and the landlord references and the Dhillons take them.

“They all know what they’re moving into, they all know what they’re getting into — they all know it! You don’t turn around a month later and complain about stuff you saw when you moved in.

“If you didn’t like it when you moved in, then stay the (expletive) out and look for something else.”

The Dhillons are providing a service to Whitehorse by providing low-income housing, said Moritz.

“Nobody is building low-income housing in this town,” he said.

A lack of affordable housing for the underprivileged is part of the reason that low-income families and people on social-assistance have to live in slum-like conditions said NDP leader Todd Hardy.

Hardy would like to see the government take some steps to ensure rental accommodations are adequate.

“A lot of these landlords are truly talking advantage of the system and they’re not providing the services that are agreed to,” he said.

“This problem is not going away, it’s getting worse.”

Checking on social assistance recipients housing is not something Health and Social Service workers do, said department spokeswoman Pat Living.

“If someone says they are living somewhere, we don’t go and check that out.

“We encourage tenants to develop their own relationships with landlords; we’re not part of the landlord-tenant agreement at all.”

If there was an emergency situation, or an apartment was unsafe — such as a family with a baby who lost heat in their apartment — the Health department does have the authority to put them up in a hotel, she said.

Health and Social Services works with Yukon Housing — an organization that currently has 382 social housing unit in its Whitehorse stock and a waiting list to get into them — and uses its standards to determine whether a house is safe, said Living.

That’s also a problem, said Hardy.

The territory has no standards for rental accommodations because the Yukon Landlord and Tenant Act doesn’t have any.

The law calls for them, but they were never created.

That’s why he wants the act amended, to ensure tenants have safe places to live and landlords can protect their interests.

According to section 76 of the Yukon Landlord and Tenant Act, landlords are required to “comply with health, safety, maintenance and occupancy standards established by law.”

The only problem is, the standards were never drafted, so there aren’t any.

That’s an issue the government is looking into, said Doug Caldwell.

Since the issue of a lack of standards was raised a few years ago, the government has been conducting an internal review of the Yukon Landlord and Tenant Act, he said.

The review will focus on a number of things, including the health and safety of tenants, what is considered substandard housing and what other jurisdictions are doing with landlord and tenant issues, said Caldwell.

There’s no timeframe on when the review will finish and he doesn’t know if the review will be made public, he said.

“It’s got a lot of threads in it,