Friday, 8 January 2016

FIRE CODE VIOLATIONS: GO TO JAIL !

Criminal negligence causing death.  That is what a landlord was charged with, convicted, and sentenced to a global sentence of 3 years in prison for in failing to make sure that a rental property that he owned was up to fire-code standards.  The facts of that case can be found in R v. Singh .  This Judge alone trial and conviction was recently upheld by the Ontario Court of Appeal.

In this case it is clear that the landlord was aware of the deficiencies and that he actively deceived authorities and tried to avoid installing the necessary smoke detectors and safety equipment.   Conduct that likely was based in trying to save money led to the tragic death of a tenant and a prison term for the landlord.

In R. v. Singh, the landlord knew that he had an alcoholic tenant who would cook in his room on a hotplate.  The landlord did not do enough to stop the cooking notwithstanding the risk to the tenant and other occupants of the building.  On one occasion the tenant fell asleep and set his unit on fire by leaving the hotplate on thereby causing his bed to catch on fire.  Upon discovering the fire the tenant chose to fight the fire instead of fleeing and he perished from smoke inhalation.  A neighbor who helped also suffered burns in the fire and was hospitalized for four days.  Two other tenants from the building fled and escaped injury.  None of the occupants of the building were alerted of the fire by any fire alarms or smoke alarms.  This was the case notwithstanding repeated inspections by a fire inspector.  The landlord had been told many times what upgrades had to be done to the premises to make them compliant.  The trial judge's findings include findings that the landlord misled the fire inspector about who lived in the building and further that the landlord knew the fire systems were not working properly.

The trial judge found as a fact that the failure to have working fire systems in the premises deprived the tenants of crucial time that would have allowed the tenants to avoid injury (presumably by having enough time to perhaps put out the fire or escape from the building). 

Accordingly, the landlord was sentenced to a global sentence of three years in prison.

This case is a reminder that fire systems, smoke detectors, smoke alarms, and other warning systems are critically important as people's lives may be lost if there is a fire and there is no warning that these systems can provide.   For people dealing with smoke detectors, fire alarms, and other fire suppression equipment this case provides a clear picture of the kind of criminal liability that can follow from a tragic incident like this.

The warning is not only for landlords.  Tenants should also be aware that tampering with fire alarms, smoke detectors, fire suppression equipment can cause grave injury and death to people in a building if there is a fire.  The rationale of this case would support a conviction of any person who intentionally interferes with smoke detectors, alarms and fire suppression equipment and there is an incident leading to the death or injury of persons in the building.

Working fire safety equipment is something that the law and the Courts take very seriously as evidenced by the sentence in this case.
Michael K. E. Thiele
www.ottawalawyers.com 

 

18 comments:

  1. Hi Michael

    your blog has been super helpful for me in the past, hope you don't mind me leaving a question unrelated to the post but google is coming up blank on this.

    My roommate is moving to Korea. She has given my landlord two months notice. I asked her to wait tillI found a new roomate but she didn't and now the predictable has happened.

    We aee both on the lease so despite hearing that I want to stay the landlord is asking me to sign an agreement to terminate along with the roommate who is leaving. He is stating that he will then decide if he wants to renew to me and whoever I find, however if you ask me his mind is made up. The reason he would prefer not to rent to me, which he has more or less admitted, is that I am on ODSP. I know that's not really a legal reason but I don't know how much I can actually do about it. Can I refuse to sign the agreement or will that not help?

    TIA!

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  3. Hi Michael,

    Great post, as a Landlord I love reading your blog to keep me informed, and posts like these have an effect on people like me to take action in their rental properties to potentially save lives. Kudos to you!

    To add to this, there are now certain types of odor/smoke alarms that can be installed in rental units that can alert Landlords via email in case the alarm gets tripped. Providing these alarms are only monitoring smoke and odor and alerting the landlord and providing them with instances of when/how often the alarms were tripped, are there any legal implications in installing such units?

    - Dal

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    1. HI Beverly:

      If there is a maintenance problem that the landlord refuses to address the easiest route to go, sometimes, is to call property standards from the city/township and ask them to come and inspect. When they come, show them the problem. Often they will order the landlord to do the repair by a certain date. If the work is not done the landlord can be charged and the city can authorize the work to be done and charged back to the landlord.

      Aside from the Property Standards route you could also file a T6 application to the Landlord and Tenant Board. The Board can order the landlord to fix the drain problem and also award you an abatement of rent. It is best to go to the Board with solid evidence of the problem which is well done if you have an order from Property Standards.

      Good luck

      Michael K. E. Thiele
      www.ottawalawyers.com

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  5. Hi there,

    My partner and I recently moved into a building and our leasing agent gave us a letter on behalf of the leasing agency that says they are not only our leasing agency for the building but also property management. We have no contact information for an owner - and the building is owned by a corporation. The leasing agency is now claiming they aren't our property management and all they can do is forward our concerns to the owner (and we never hear a reply).

    Since moving we have had a great many issue with our apartment, some more major than others. Currently we have an electric baseboard heater in our bathroom that has no control - it is perpetually on. We were told it wasn't connected to our thermostat which controls the gas fireplace. We were assured the baseboard heaters were backup, and now this one is constantly on full blast and running up our hydro bill. To make matters worse the balcony on our unit is unfinished, so the door is nailed closed but isn't properly sealed and has no door handle. We've taped over the edges but we've been waiting over a month after requesting it be sealed properly (and being told they'd do it), and it's still not done. Obviously that's affecting our utility cost.

    Our leasing agent was supposed to give us a mail key when we moved in. When she took us to show us which box was ours the boxes had recently been spray painted and were unnumbered. They still haven't numbered them, and other tenants have taped their unit number and name on the front - but she couldn't figure out which was ours. Our key didn't open any box so she took it and said the property management company would reach out when they'd figured it out. Except they're saying they aren't our property management company and again its been a month or so with no indication of when we will be able to receive mail.


    We were also told they were retrofitting the front door with a lock and we would be given a key. The lock hasn't been installed and last night a man tried to walk into our apartment after trying several other doors in the building.

    The construction has left a lot of the other side of the building exposed to the elements, and because of this a pipe froze earlier in the month. We had no emergency contact number for the building and we went 36 hours without water in the whole building before someone came to fix it.

    Better yet, the construction crew frequently blasts music at about 7am every morning so loud I can feel it in my apartment and all the not-our-property-management company says is that they'll pass it along.

    Additionally, our lease (and leasing agent) indicated our unit would have a dishwasher, which it doesn't, and that the building has a laundry room. We weren't told the laundry room was still under construction until after we moved in. It won't be done for a considerable amount of time (it's not even part of the next phase of construction, it's the one after). These are lesser concerns but still considerably irritating as that's part of what sold us on applying to live here (an application which insisted we deposit last month's rent with the application and wouldn't let us withdraw our application without forfeiting the money and indicated if approved we were agreeing to sign the lease by submitting the application).

    We are not the only tenants who are anxious about this kind of thing but none of us are sure of we have any legal ground to stand on.

    Do you have any advice?

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    1. Hi Riley: What a truly terrible experience. I will draw your attention to section 12 of the Residential Tenancies Act. This section suspends your obligation to pay rent under the landlord provides certain basic information including the legal name and address of the landlord. Given that your property management company is not agreeing that they are the "landlord" or the proper party to deliver legal complaints to it would be reasonable to suspend the payment of rent until the required information is provided. You should write to the property manager advising of this position (it is reasonable and legal). Once the required information is provided you will need to pay any with-held rent.

      With respect to the condition of your place make sure to document all of the complaints to the property manager and do it in writing (email/text is fantastic) and make to keep a paper copy of your complaints. Based on what you are going through, contact the Property Standards Department of your City. There is a property standards by-plaw that will address the complaints that you have and the City can make orders against your landlord. These orders and these inspections will be useful evidence for you. Collect your own evidence as well, such a pictures, video, statements, inspection reports, and then take a look at a T6 application and a T2 application on the Landlord and Tenant Board website. You can use these applications to highlight the problems you are having and they are fairly clear for the remedies you are seeking. You may ask for a rent abatement and orders for repairs etc.. For example, you can ask for compensation and an Order requiring the baseboard heater in your bathroom to be regulated by thermostat over which you have control.

      I think that's a good start to solving your issues. Let me know if you have any other questions.

      Michael K. E. Thiele
      www.ottawalawyers.com

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  6. Hi Michael,

    You have a lot of interesting posts which I have found very helpful.

    I have a questions which I'm curious your opinion on, though it isn't directly related to this post.

    I recently moved out from a unit where I had been living for the previous 5 years. The lease was assigned to myself from a previous tenant. Upon my move in, the landlord/property management did not do any inspection. Though the unit is in generally good condition, the tenant who assigned to me had put a lot of things on the walls leaving holes where nails and screws had been placed. There were some cracked tiles in the kitchen, minor cracking in one of the bathroom sinks. Nothing major, but also not in brand new condition.

    Now that I've moved out, the owner is asking me to pay for repairs for damage that had been done prior to the assignment. My question is, upon accepting the assignment, am I personally responsible for any damage from the beginning of the lease, or only the damage from after the assignment is made?

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    1. Hi: The answer to your question is actually specifically provided for in the Residential Tenancies Act. I will reproduce the section below. In summary though, you are responsible only for the period of time after the assignment and the first tenant is responsible for anything prior to the assignment. The failure of the landlord to do an inspection at the time of the assignment will make it very difficult for the landlord to prove its case against you as you will maintain that the damage occurred before the assignment. As the landlord will have the burden of proof you should prevail. However, if you ever find yourself in this position again you can see how valuable an inspection would have been for you as well at turnover. If you had an inspection report in your hand right now this would not be an issue at all.

      Here is the section from he RTA:

      Consequences of assignment
      (8) If a tenant has assigned a rental unit to another person, the tenancy agreement continues to apply on the same terms and conditions and,

      (a) the assignee is liable to the landlord for any breach of the tenant’s obligations and may enforce against the landlord any of the landlord’s obligations under the tenancy agreement or this Act, if the breach or obligation relates to the period after the assignment, whether or not the breach or obligation also related to a period before the assignment;

      (b) the former tenant is liable to the landlord for any breach of the tenant’s obligations and may enforce against the landlord any of the landlord’s obligations under the tenancy agreement or this Act, if the breach or obligation relates to the period before the assignment;

      (c) if the former tenant has started a proceeding under this Act before the assignment and the benefits or obligations of the new tenant may be affected, the new tenant may join in or continue the proceeding. 2006, c. 17, s. 95 (8).

      Good luck to you

      Michael K. E. Thiele
      www.ottawalawyers.com

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  7. Hi

    This is completely off topic but i wanted some information. My tenant submited a s2 form to ltb but the application has the address of the house but does not specify the unit . All the applications i filled out specified the unit . Would this application get dismissed as it does not specify the unit ??

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    1. Hi: I presume you mean a T2 application. An "Application" as opposed to a "Notice of Termination" is capable of being amended simply by asking the adjudicator. You could argue against an amendment but I do not think you would be successful. The same would be true for you, as a landlord. If you had an error in you "L" application you could ask the adjudicator to amend it as well. What needs to be correct is the Notice of Termination and the RTA has specific requirements for the mandatory content of the Notice of Termination. There are exceptions to everything of course and the RTA does contain a "substantial compliance" provision that under the right circumstances may be used to overlook or correct mistakes.

      Michael K. E. Thiele
      www.ottawalawyers.com

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  8. Hi Michael,

    This is off topic too, but I live in the Ottawa area as a tenant in a house converted into 3 units. I rent the middle unit, and only recently I discovered that I've been paying for the gas that supplies the unit downstairs with heat and hot water. I also discovered that I was supplying electricity to an exterior detached garage/utility building of which I am not allowed access, as well as electricity to power common utility appliances, such as central air, furnace blower, and hot water blower. I complained in writing as soon as I discovered this from the tenant downstairs, after more than a year of denial from the landlord.

    Once I found out, his written reply is that I agreed in my lease to get money from the tenant myself. His lawyer sent me a lease that was clearly altered providing this new point, with my initials forged. I presented the original lease I signed today to the Tenancy Board during my hearing, however the adjudicator seemed to question it's authenticity. The bias for the landlord was incredible, since the original from the landlord was not even requested. The adjudicator seemed to believe the landlord's faked photocopy was more authentic that the original I provided to him.

    Since standing up for my rights under the TRA, I have been harrassed, lost days of work, I don't sleep well, and I'm truly scared this landlord will illegally enter my premises and plant drugs or something, then call the police on me. He has unsuccessfully attempted to coerce the tenant downstairs to sign a letter from his lawyer that says I'm making too much noise and should be evicted. He wants me gone, and yes I know I need to move because this has so negatively affected my life, it's just not an easy thing to do. I need help, and I really don't know what to do next.

    Thanks,

    Gerry

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  9. Hi there Mr Thiele ..
    I am currently renting a townhouse. I found a ad online for it and came to see it with the notion that it was 1400 a month as posted in the ad . At the end of the showing I was informed that 1400 was a typo and it was actually 1600 because renovations were being done in the basement and the 2nd floor washroom . I thought 1600 is alot but is worth the Reno. I was also informed that I would have access eventually to the garage ( I don't drive ) for storage . I moved in September 1st and realized not all Renos were done or complete and that some repairs needed to be done . Ie .. no hand railing leading to basement , no caps on extetior bedroom windows , light fictures dangling from celilings , a molded washing machine and a few other things . The landlord said they did all they could .I asked the landlord to fix them and he did do some things . I was also told to read my lease carefully as it states I am responsible for repairs and told that they would not replace the washing machine that I could buy new one and store the old one . I have noticed cockroaches and notified them and was told they never had any and make sure the cockroaches are gone . I text them back stating it was the responsibilty of the landlord which followed with a text stating nothing is up to my standards with the house so to make things easier they are giving me notice to find a new place . I told them I know my rights and they responded saying that was a warning for eviction and that proper paper work would be done . A day latter I was served a N12 to have me out by Jan 2nd . I did sign a year lease and know that the N12 is void because the termination date is before the end date on my lease . I was then texted asking to keep all mail and someone would be by to pick it up . Mail has continuously come here for the landlord and they have asked me to forward it to them . I stated I would not forward mail anymore . I am done being nice and pleasant and was also told that I should not be forwarding their mail . Later that same day I came out of the house to find a mysterious car in the driveway . I text the landlord to ask if it was hers and she said yes . I said it was being towed ( I felt harassed and bullied at this point ) . She said you have no right and that my lease states 2 parking spots ( which it does but the ad states ("5 car parking .. lots of space") She called police who called me and I gave them a brief history of what has been going on and they advised her to move it . She told police that I was a month to month tenant and her husband called me stating that someone rents the garage and that was their car . I am now going to file a T2 and a T6 for maintenance and harassment . I feel that she served me the N12 in bad faith retaliating because I have asked for repairs . I have 3 children who are having a hard time adjusting and settling in . I uprooted our life to hopefully settle here and not just for a few months . I was advised by a friend and also LTB that I could ask for a abatement but am unsure how to go about that . Also .. when my lease is up in September 2017 do I indefinitely have to move . Could I ask for moving expenses from the landlord and coyld I ask for my rent to be the original 1400 as renos were not completed . Im only asking because I have never had to do this and don't want to come across as greedy and asking for too much

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    1. Hi: There are a great many questions and issues rolled up in what you have written. Probably more than I can answer here with any great specificity. I will comment generally that your T2 & T6 are good applications to bring. The N12 being served is useful because it seems demonstrably clear that it was retaliatory for complaining about problems in the rental unit. In this sense it is harassment with the intention of striking fear in you. If you did not know it was void you might have had great anxiety and expense in moving if you believed it was a lawful notice. The fact that you knew it wasn't lawful negates some of the bigger damages you could claim--i.e. you did not move pursuant to a false notice. However, the serving of a false notice is still and attempt at intimidation and you had to deal with it and it certainly impaired your quiet enjoyment of the premises. It has some value--perhaps not very much, but nevertheless it should be worth an abatement--probably in a fixed amount of a couple of hundred dollars.

      You are correct of course in relation to the repair obligation and the landlord having to do it. Presuming you have the evidence together (did you get property standards in to inspect and do a report?), your T6 will be successful. As a typical abatement range work with an assumption of 10% to 30% of monthly rent for the duration of the problems. The worse the situation is the higher the abatement.

      You seem to have solved the parking problem quite nicely and the threat to tow the vehicle is clever. I think you will want to get orders about the parking space being included in your lease and the garage being included--hence the order you are seeking may not be just about money but also getting the Board to order that the parking is yours and that the landlord can not give away the garage and the driveway. It is your rented space.

      With respect to the end of your one year lease you will have an automatic right to continue the tenancy on a month to month basis. This is the case even if the landlord does not want you to stay. However, given how quickly they resorted to the N12 don't be surprised if you see one coming back towards the end of your lease. Because the remedy for using an N12 improperly is so weak the landlord can readily take the risk of using it as an eviction tool and likely get away with it. You may of course fight the N12 and if you can establish that the N12 was not served in good faith then the case will be dismissed.

      Moving expenses are unlikely at this stage because you do not have to move. The N12 remedies that you would get for bad faith really do not apply because you did not act on the invalid N12 and you did not incur the expenses. Further, you will not incur any of those expenses because you know the N12 is bogus. In the future, if the landlord served a new N12, and you move based on it you could indeed get moving expenses if you are able to prove that it was served in bad faith.

      I hope that helps you somewhat.

      Good luck

      Michael K. E. Thiele
      www.ottawalawyers.com

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    2. Sorry--forgot to address the issue of rent from $1400 to $1600. If you signed a lease for $1600 I think you are out of luck. Certainly if you entered into a $1400 lease and agreed to a rent increase for additional services then the amount of the increase is contingent on the additional services being provided. The RTA provides for such a mechanism--however, even if it applied here the numbers are out of whack and don't work. Hence you don't have a clear shot at reducing the amount of the rent on contractual terms. What is useful though, is that the value of the increased services of what you should have gotten has been valued by the landlord at $200 per month. This is a useful sum to use in your abatement calculation with the argument that the rent should be reduced by this amount pending the landlord providing the things he said would be done.

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  10. Hi Michael,

    I have a question or two about fire safety. Can a Landlord fine a tenant for their fire alarm going off while they're cooking? Quick rundown of the facts. There are 16 apartments in my building, half of them don't have hood fans over the stoves, none of them have doors on the kitchens, and the other half have hood fans that recirculate the air back into the kitchen.

    Recently the Landlord had a company come in and install smoke alarms in all the apartments (we also have fire alarms) so that if an alarm goes off in one apartment it goes off in the whole building. Unfortunately that means that if someone is cooking something and it causes smoke, or if someone is boiling water (I have 2 pots boiling when making potato salad for example, 1 for potatoes and another for eggs and the steam is unbelievable) the alarm goes off in the whole building and the fire department shows up. --I have a curtain between the kitchen and living room so my alarm doesn't go off--

    Anyway in the last 2 months there have been 3 alarms with fire department attendance, because someone was cooking. The Landlord has told us that the next time it happens the tenant will have to pay a fine. Is that legal?

    Do the Landlord's have to make sure that the apartments are properly ventilated in the kitchen area to cut down on false alarms? Also, are we supposed to have fire extinguishers in our apartments?

    Sorry if there are too many questions but I hope I gave you enough information.

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    1. Hi Jennifer: Great questions! Smoke detectors cause an unbelievable amount of grief for many tenants. This is especially so where: 1) the kitchens do not have proper hood fans (i.e. circulating air through a charcoal filter), 2) tenants actually cook and don't just nuke chicken nuggets, and 3) the landlord to save money locates the smoke detector to cover off sleeping areas and the kitchen space without taking into account cooking.

      Can the landlord find a tenant for setting off a fire alarm---good luck to the landlord in trying that. If all the tenants are doing is cooking without doing anything that is otherwise extraordinary the fining of the tenant would be to punish them for cooking. This could never fly. A tenant has a right to cook, use a kitchen in a way that is reasonably anticipated.

      The problem in your apartments is that the landlord has installed centrally monitored smoke detectors without also installing proper ventilation for the kitchens. The problems would likely not arise with proper kitchen ventilation. I see this as a problem for the landlord and not for the tenants--from a fine perspective. The nuisance of fire alarms and the fire department showing up for non emergency issues is of course bothersome for the all of the tenants.

      In a sense you are lucky. The fines that come from these false alarms should motivate the landlord to properly ventilate the kitchens. Many other tenants, who simply have smoke detectors (but no central monitoring and hence no fire department response) have to deal with smoke detectors constantly going off with indifferent landlords who do nothing.

      Many tenants end up removing the smoke detectors--while cooking--which of course is illegal. What often happens is that they forget or don't bother to replace the smoke detector and then during an inspection the landlord notices and serves a Notice of Termination for tampering with the smoke detector. It is an entirely unfair situation but landlords in these situations are simply unwilling to spend the money to properly ventilate the kitchens.

      I don't anticipate any risk of "fines" for the tenants in your building notwithstanding that the landlord might try to impose them. The landlord controls the smoke detectors and the system and as such the landlord needs to make normal cooking coexist with smoke detectors.

      Hope that helps

      Cheers

      Michael K. E. Thiele
      www.ottawalawyers.com

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IMPORTANT NOTICE

Any answers provided are intended to reflect the Law of Ontario, Canada. The answers are not legal advice and no one should rely on the answers provided as legal advice. The answers are intended to be general information about Ontario Law and are the personal view of the author based on the limited facts provided to the author. The answers may not be legally accurate and may indeed be contrary to the law of Ontario. Answers and conclusions drawn may have been different if facts had been shared that have not been disclosed in the comment/question. This blog is intended to assist people in learning about Ontario Landlord and Tenant Law. However, if you have actual legal problems this blog should under no circumstances replace proper legal advice obtained by retaining a lawyer or licensed paralegal to advise you. Nothing in this blog, comments submitted or answers provided, gives rise to a solicitor and client relationship. Comments are published as submitted and commenters should be aware that if they identify themselves in a comment that their identity will become public upon the comment being published. Comments that have been published may be deleted upon request to the author.

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About Michael Thiele

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Ottawa lawyer and partner at Quinn Thiele Mineault Grodzki LLP.  Graduate of Queen's University in Kingston, Ontario.  Called to the bar in Ontario in 1997.  Undergraduate degree at Colby College, Waterville Maine, U.S.A.