Evacuation order for unsafe building in Abbotsford

Tessaro Villa at 33412 Tessaro Crescent in Abbotsford. - Kevin Mills
Tessaro Villa at 33412 Tessaro Crescent in Abbotsford.
— image credit: Kevin Mills

Fifteen tenants from a low-cost apartment building in Abbotsford have been evacuated and relocated after a seven-year battle over the maintenance of the facility.

Mike Helmer, deputy chief of Abbotsford Fire Rescue Service (AFRS), said approval was received from the provincial Office of the Fire Commissioner to invoke an evacuation order for Tessaro Villa, located at 33412 Tessaro Cres.

The relocation of the tenants – nine women, three men and three children – was completed on Wednesday.

"It's been a long, hard, time-consuming effort, but it's been absolutely successful," Helmer said of the time it has taken to resolve the situation.

Helmer said the problem dates back to 2005, when AFRS first became aware that the building's strata property owners were not maintaining the fire-safety system, including alarms, sprinklers, and emergency lighting.

The 12-suite, three-storey building also presented numerous health hazards, including blood on the walls, urine and feces in the stairwells, and used needles littered throughout.

Helmer said the building, constructed about 20 years ago, was not monitored by a property management company, and there was no one keeping track of who was coming and going.

This sometimes resulted in "squatters" occupying spare suites.

But tenants paid only $400 to $450 a month and, with limited affordable-housing options available, many felt they had nowhere else to go.

Helmer said there was an "ongoing lack of cooperation" from the strata property owners to fix the issues, as concerns about tenant safety continued to rise.

"It was inevitable that something (bad) was going to happen," he said.

The site was identified by the city as a problem property, with extensive police, fire and bylaw enforcement concerns.

Last fall, AFRS had a resolution approved by city council that the building be declared unsafe and that, in cases such as this, the city be able to make the repairs itself and then recoup the costs from the owners through their property taxes.

AFRS also met with representatives from the Salvation Army, Abbotsford Community Services, the Ministry of Social Development, the Women's Resource Society, and the Elizabeth Fry Society.

The groups developed a plan for safely moving the tenants and ensuring they weren't left without accommodation.

It was decided that the residents would stay in the building for a short time while relocation arrangements were made. Meanwhile, a security company was hired to perform a 24-hour fire watch.

Now that the tenants have all been moved, the building will stay vacant. Helmer said the owners must complete all required repairs and receive the necessary permits before the site can be occupied again.

He said plans are underway to better deal with such problem properties and prevent future similar issues.







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