Some neighbours of a woman who barely escaped a recent fire in a dilapidated cabin in a Chilliwack trailer park say the landlord has to be held partly to blame.
Myra Panteluk was living in the unit at the Green Gables Motel & Trailer Park with no electricity and no water, both having been cut off by her Abbotsford landlord.
The 66-year-old with health issues had been evicted from the unit but, having nowhere else to go, she stayed on using candles for light.
Candles that caused the fire.
“It’s unbelievable how much I had to endure,” Panteluk said a few days after the fire, staying with a friend in a run-down trailer in the park.
It was June 6 when the Chilliwack Fire Department responded to the report of a structure fire at approximately 6 a.m.
Panteluk’s friend and neighbour at Green Gables, Chad Juba, went over to her place after 5 a.m. to borrow a cigarette for his wife, he said.
When he opened the door, he was met with thick black smoke. He hurried to wake up Panteluk, who was in a deep sleep.
“I grabbed her and yelled, ‘We gotta go!'” Juba said.
“He’s the one who saved my life,” Panteluk said.
The fire destroyed the unit, and Panteluk was taken to hospital, essentially uninjured.
Landlord Dan Lang with Re/Max Little Oak Realty in Abbotsford confirmed the utilities had been cut off.
“That is correct,” Lang told The Progress in a phone conversation recently. “But it was also supposed to be vacant. She had moved out two weeks prior. She told us she had moved out, she had moved to a shelter. During that time we shut off the utilities to the entire complex.”
There were conflicting accounts between Panteluk and Lang over her eviction, but even Panteluk concedes she lost an arbitration hearing months ago. But since she had nowhere to go, she just never left. She also claims she kept giving rent cheques, which were cashed, something Lang denies.
So did the landlords know she was in there when the fire happened?
“She was [in there] but she had given up possession of it. We had cut off the water and the gas and the electricity, which is why she was in there with a candle,” Lang said.
But both Panteluk and Juba said she had never left the unit, and utilities were cut off knowing the 66-year-old woman, otherwise destitute with health problems and dealing with the recent death of her husband, was still inside.
“I can attest she never [moved out] as well as half a dozen others,” Juba said. “As well, I can attest because I gave her help and can say she lost her arbitration in the month of March.”
Another tenant of Green Gables confirmed to The Progress that Panteluk had never left and that the landlords cut off the water and power knowing she was still there.
After the fire, crews were brought in to board up the empty units. But problems with these units were widely known, and the landlords did little by way of upkeep, according to some.
When cabins were torn down across the street from Green Gables in the summer of 2017 to build townhouses, a Green Gables resident expressed to The Progress her fear that the city would conduct building inspections on the dilapidated duplexes and force evictions, leaving her homeless.
In some ways, Panteluk is representative of those on the knife’s edge of homelessness. Precariously housed in poor conditions, then evicted, then squatting in that same poor shelter, now with nowhere to go.
The unit never had a working toilet, and Panteluk said the stove didn’t work, something Lang disputed when asked.
Part of the criticism from neighbours over Panteluk is also that she helped out those most in need, allowing homeless people to sometimes sleep in her unit.
“They sleep on my floor just to get out of the cold,” she said. “”I’m not rich, but what I had I shared with them.”
She said she couldn’t find another place to rent, and she still can’t.
A GoFundMe has been set up for Panteluk to help her get settled somewhere else.