Toronto is launching an inspection blitz targeting the electrical systems of highrise buildings in the wake of incidents that displaced tenants from St. James Town apartments, Mayor John Tory announced Wednesday.
A team including officials from the city’s Municipal Licensing and Standards division, Toronto Fire Services and the Electrical Safety Authority (ESA) will identify properties where inspections need to be done, Tory told reporters at city hall.
The move comes after last August’s fire at 650 Parliament St., forcing the evacuation of more than 1,000 residents — who have still not been able to return to the building — and a recent inspection by the ESA of 280 Wellesley St. E., which is owned by the same landlord.
Tory said the 650 Parliament fire was related to a “catastrophic failure” of that building’s electrical system, and the recent inspection of the electrical system at 280 Wellesley found it was in poor working order and hadn’t been maintained in “many, many years.”
In January, a building owned by the same landlord at 260 Wellesley St. E. had its power cut off as a safety measure after a water pipe burst there. An ESA inspection revealed that major work needed to be done to bring the building up to an acceptable standard before power could be restored, Tory said.
“This lack of preventative maintenance is unacceptable and needs to stop,” he said. “There is too much safety risk involved and can’t be the standard when it comes to the lives of hard working tenants in these buildings.”
Tory said the blitz will involve a comprehensive set of inspections that will be carried out in St. James Town, as well as in other parts of the city. The team will identify buildings for “comprehensive inspection and testing” of their electrical systems.
“My hope is (the team) will focus on building owners with a history of non-compliance,” he said.
Reporters were told that Toronto Fire Services does yearly inspections of all high rises in Toronto, but those inspection don’t necessarily capture the electrical systems.
Steve Smith, a general manager with the ESA, said aging buildings are a problem throughout North America. “Buildings are getting older, electrical systems are getting older,” he said.
Smith said maintaining electrical systems is largely a voluntary process for landlords, but that industry standards recommend inspections be done every two or three years.
“In hindsight, perhaps (provincial) legislation should be changed to make it mandatory to go in and do these inspections,” he said.
On Tuesday, a spokesperson said the James Town property owner has pledged to fully co-operate and do the work necessary to get the buildings up to the required standards.
Donovan Vincent is a housing reporter based in Toronto. Follow him on Twitter: @donovanvincent