Discarded carpeting and underlay sits outside an apartment unit at The Mariner in Comox, after a town water main burst, completely flooding the lower floor of the complex. Photo by Terry Farrell

Burst water main leaves low-income tenants evicted and homeless in Comox

Mayor: “We don’t have a mechanism to house the folks. We are trying to do the best we can.”

Numerous renters have been displaced from the Mariner Apartments in Comox, after a water main break completely flooded the bottom floor.

The water main break occurred in the early morning Thursday.

“Our crews got called out at 5:42 and the water was shut off by 6:10,” said Shelley Ashfield, municipal engineer for the Town of Comox. “The repair was done by 10 a.m.”

Ashfield explained because the damage was done on private property, the landlord’s insurance company and the Town’s insurance company will determine liability.

Meanwhile, tenants from 17 units have been evicted from their residences.

Management from Arpeg – the landlord company – said first priority was finding alternative lodging for all the affected tenants. Friday afternoon, Arpeg senior vice-president of finance, Drew Ratcliffe, assured The Record that all tenants have been provided with alternative lodging.

“Yes, and we will continue to do that,” he said.“At this point, the focus for us is getting as many of the tenants’ possessions saved or preserved and trying to help them with that.”

However, a letter sent to all tenants, personally signed by Ratcliffe, contradicts these claims. The letter places the burden of finding alternate living arrangements, and removal of property, solely on the shoulders of the tenants.

The letter, dated Jan. 11, states, in bolded font, “At this time we have to declare a ‘frustrated tenancy agreement’ thereby ending all tenancies on the first floor, effective immediately. You will need to find new housing arrangements and remove all your belongings within 24 hours.”

“The Arpeg management has not provided alternative lodging and while they are helping look for new places to live, they are not responsible for actually finding us a new place to live,” Tianna Franklin told The Record. “When I asked in a building meeting if they are going to put us up in a hotel, the building manager said that the insurance likely wouldn’t cover it and that we were on our own.

“He also acknowledged that it wouldn’t be likely that we would be able to find replacement accommodations. This is not a temporary evacuation. They are saying that our rental contracts are frustrated and ending them. While they may offer us the apartments when they become available, as far as I am aware they are not legally responsible to do so.”

Tenancy at the Mariner Apartments consists primarily of low-income earners and seniors. Most of those affected do not have tenant insurance.

Comox Mayor Russ Arnott visited the site Saturday morning.

“It was a sad state of affairs,” he said. “Folks were throwing their belongings into dumpsters. Others were packing up their belongings into cars. I’m told there was about six inches of water, and there’s quite a smell coming up already.”

Arnott said he will be meeting with staff Monday morning to discuss whether the Town can do anything for the affected residents.

“Unfortunately, we don’t have any kind of accommodations for the residents,” said Arnott. “Normally they would rely on their insurance to put them up somewhere.

“We will be discussing it on Monday, but we don’t have a mechanism to house the folks. We are trying to do the best we can for the folks.”

When asked whether the Town could come up with some sort of emergency funding for those affected, Arnott did not dismiss the idea.

“That’s definitely something that we are going to be talking about,” he said. “I can’t promise anything, but I am staying in close communications with staff to see if anything can be done… We will definitely help as much as we can.”

Arnott said after visiting the site, it’s clear the units will remain unoccupied for an extended period of time.

“Speaking with Belfor (Belfor Property Restoration, which has been contracted with the cleanup), it’s going to be many months, anyway, because they are going to have to cut the drywall up to the four-foot level. There’s a lot of work,” said Arnott.

Ratcliffe said it has yet to be determined whether the infrastructure of the building has been compromised.

“Obviously my fingers are crossed … the building is absolutely a question. So a building condition report sometime over the next 48 to 72 hours will have to be done as well.”

Ashfield said the cause of the burst is still under investigation.

“Hard to say [the cause],” she said. “It just happens. We don’t get them often, but it could be the freeze-thaw that we had, that could have been something that triggered it. I believe it was an old AC main that’s there.”

She did not know how old the infrastructure is, but added it was the first break of its kind in that area.

Only one of the tenants had insurance and Franklin has launched a crowdfunding campaign to help. The target is $8,500.

“We’re asking for $8,500 because that will give $500 for every apartment. The money will be shared equally amongst us. It won’t even begin to cover all of our expenses but it will help soften the blow.”

To contribute to the crowdfunding campaign, go to https://bit.ly/2D7j5v8

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