The Watson Lake fire chief has ordered the Liard First Nation to fix a number of fire safety and structural deficiencies in a local apartment building after residents complained about problems that include an ongoing bedbug infestation.
Last month, a resident of the Lakeview Apartments told the News that the First Nation was doing nothing to get rid of the bedbugs, which she believes have been a problem in the building for more than a year.
Watson Lake Mayor Justin Brown says that residents complained to the municipality about the building around May 11. The local fire chief then inspected the building, with support from the Yukon fire marshal’s office.
Brown said the fire chief found several deficiencies related to fire alarms, carbon monoxide detectors, fire extinguishers, fire-rated doors and the structural integrity of balconies, among other problems. He said the oil storage tanks also need to be replaced.
“All those things are currently out of compliance,” he said.
Brown said the fire chief gave the Liard First Nation 21 days to fix the fire-safety problems, though he said it will take longer to fix the structural issues.
If the First Nation doesn’t comply, Brown said, officials could condemn the building. That could leave the residents homeless.
“If the Liard First Nation does not comply, then the fire marshal’s office may have to do what they need to do,” he said. “We would like to see the building be at least up to standard so that we have nothing there to worry about in terms of people being thrown out onto the street.”
Brown said the First Nation is working closely with the Watson Lake fire department and the fire marshal’s office to address the issues.
The most pressing question right now seems to be where the money will come from to fix the problems. The Liard First Nation has been under third-party management since the fall of 2014, when it announced it could no longer afford to pay its employees.
But the third-party manager, Ganhada Management Group, doesn’t oversee housing and will not cover the cost of repairs, according to an email from Indigenous and Northern Affairs Canada.
“If the situation at the apartment building creates new costs for accommodations and living expenses, Ganhada Management Group’s current social assistance clients may be eligible for funding to help cover some of these costs,” according to the email.
However, it seems the First Nation may be able to get some funding through Yukon Housing’s rental quality enhancement program.
That program, created last June, provides funding for a wide range of health and safety upgrades, including smoke and carbon monoxide detectors, ventilation, oil tank support and structural improvements. Still, it’s limited to $10,000 per unit, up to a maximum of $50,000 per building.
Chris Milner, acting vice-president of operations for Yukon Housing, said the Liard First Nation approached Yukon Housing about the program this week.
“In this case, we’ve pointed them at the application process but we haven’t heard back on how that’s going to work,” he said.
Still, it’s unclear what any of this will mean for the bedbug infestation, which was part of the original complaint to the Watson Lake municipality.
Pest infestations are not included in the list of eligible items under the Yukon Housing program. Milner said funding could be provided for bedbug extermination, but “a program officer would have to consider that request in context of the entire application.”
Brown said the bedbug infestation doesn’t fall under the fire chief’s purview, which is focused on the safety of the building.
Health and Social Services spokesperson Pat Living said her department has not received any formal complaints from residents about the issue. But even if it had, the only thing health officials can do is recommend that the landlord hire an exterminator. That’s because bedbugs are a “nuisance,” not a public health issue, Living explained.
Tenants can file complaints with the residential tenancies office, but it’s unclear if anyone else has the power to order the landlord to fix the problem.
Watson Lake MLA Patti McLeod didn’t respond to a request for comment. Liard First Nation Chief Daniel Morris and deputy chief Cindy Porter both hung up when they were reached by phone.
Contact Maura Forrest at