Council looking to set new standard for landlords

Checking with lawyer for opinion on proactive enforcement

Trailer fire followed fire in duplex in December.

Trailer fire followed fire in duplex in December.

Council will check with its lawyer to see if the district can look into any other properties owned by the same owner following a duplex fire in December.

Coun. Cheryl Ashlie pushed for the decision after hearing an update Monday on the house at 21719 – 117th Ave., from fire chief Dane Spence.

Council decided to refer that to the district’s lawyer.

Ashlie feared an incident similar to that which happened in Vancouver in December 2010, when  a rooming house fire claimed three lives.

Public works general manager Frank Quinn, however, doubted that the district could look at properties owned by one particular individual, if there were no complaints about those other properties.

“I’m not sure we can – but we can at least ask the question,” Quinn said.

Spence, though, said he hadn’t researched any of other properties owned by Jack Athwal, who owns the duplex. He isn’t aware, either, of any problems with any of Athwal’s other buildings.

Until recently, the duplex had been managed “quite appropriately,” he said.

“It was never on our radar.”

According to an earlier staff report, Athwal owns more than 30 rental units in Maple Ridge. He also owned most of the units in Northumberland Court, which was only demolished late last year after consuming much district staff time over the years.

The first fire in the duplex started on a mattress inside the house and left four tenants homeless just before Christmas.

The upper floor of the duplex was damaged by smoke while the area below was damaged by water. Half the duplex was deemed unsafe as a result. But three days later, around 8:30 a.m. on Boxing Day, a trailer parked in the driveway went up in smoke.

All of the duplex now has been declared unfit for habitation and needs structural and electrical repairs, Spence said.

Athwal has been told this, he added.

“If the owner does not respect the no-occupancy signage and the spirit behind it, then we will escalate our methods to keep the situation safe.”

That could include hiring a security guard or installing fencing around the property, at the owner’s expense, to ensure no one gets into the building.

“Really, the ball is in his court as to how he wants to proceed and we’re not prepared to have people living in those conditions.”

Coun. Corisa Bell supported Ashlie’s idea and said it could set a new standard for landlords in Maple Ridge.

But Coun. Al Hogarth asked how far they wanted to go.

“Because I can tell you right now, there are a lot of homes in Maple Ridge that don’t have [hard-wired] smoke detectors.”

If the district started focusing on one individual or a type of accommodation, “you’re going to shut down half the homes in Maple Ridge.”

Hogarth, who manages rental properties, said he met with Athwal and said people have to have the chance to make repairs.

If the district knew about a situation and tragedy occurred the district could be found as not having done its due diligence.

Maple Ridge News