Kristianne Stone has lived in her Cook Street apartment for just over three years after leaving her previous home where she suffered several traumatic events, including her car being torched and the landlord stealing from her unit.
“I moved here to get away from a bad situation,” Stone said. “This initially meant a safer space.”
But unresolved safety issues have her frightened, stressed and frustrated as the City of Victoria has recently targeted the two-storey building over inoperable fire alarms and an exterior staircase serving as the fire escape being partially removed.
The alarm systems were fixed in May after months of not working, but Stone still feels unsafe after a recent incident with smoke drifting into the hallways and she said the top of the fire escape could cave in at any moment.
“If we have a fire, how do we get out,” she asked from a loveseat that stretches about half the width of her second-floor unit.
Most of the building’s tenants are like a family, but Stone had to flag issues to the fire department after she said people associated with one unit threw lit cigarettes and matches toward her door – at a time when the smoke alarms weren’t working.
The small apartment has a mix of tenants who are on fixed incomes, are BC Ferries crew members or work in construction. The building has seen long-standing leaks and other issues, but it’s still home for Stone and she wouldn’t be able to afford another place if forced to leave.
“We want to be safe, we want to be healthy, we want to have a good place to live,” she said. “For us and for the neighbourhood, we just want to see things get better.”
The tenant now finds herself caught up in a bureaucratic back-and-forth as her fire escape remains unsafe nearly a month after it came to council’s attention.
Victoria on May 4 ordered property owner Richard Good to fix the fire alarm systems and ensure the fire escape is up to code by May 12.
After fire officials said Good demonstrated progress in complying with the orders, council on May 11 amended the requirements, giving the property owner until May 25 to get alarm systems operating up to code and complete construction on the fire escape by June 26.
That unanimous decision came as council was also given the option to have the city take over the situation on May 12. Staff noted it would likely take around the same time to complete the work whether the city took over or Good finished on his own.
But Victoria stepping in would ensure the work is done to code, staff said in a report that stated the city had not received documentation allowing it to assess whether the work addressing the safety issues is up to code.
The city said fire inspectors delivering the orders on May 5 told a tenant working on the fire escape to stop until a building permit was submitted. With that stalling progress on having a safe escape in place, Stone questions why a permit is needed as the work is just replacing the stairs that were already there.
“When the city or the fire department or whoever says they’re going to do something and then they say ‘We’ve got this order and if (the owner) doesn’t do it then we’re going to do it’ – do it, please,” Stone said.
“We’re left here with nothing going forward and when he gets going, the owner, we shouldn’t stop him.”
Despite her own fears, Stone at several times remarks that she could probably make the jump from the second floor in the event of a fire, but notes she’s scared for her service dog.
“I can’t be calm and still – knowing that we have these issues.”