Safeguards in place for tenants

Structural housing issues remain largely underreported to Kingston’s Property Standards department

Credit: 
Graphic by Janghan Hong

When a rental property isn’t up to standards, Kingston’s building officers want it fixed quickly.

The city staff are in court every two weeks with landlords that fail to comply.

“If there’s anything wrong with the property, we know the landlords will fix it,” said Steve Murphy, manager of Kingston’s building department.

When members of Kingston’s Property Standards team issue a notice to the owner of a Kingston house, they can be fined $50,000 if they don’t act promptly.

“Depending on the severity, if the furnace isn’t working, we’ll give them a day,” Murphy said, adding that for less severe structural repairs, owners will be given two or three weeks to comply.

Tenants can report Property Standards violations and the Kingston team will investigate, issuing a work order if necessary. The city team also conducts Property Standards housing inspections on request.

Student houses count for 10 per cent of the 500 housing and commercial properties the team inspects.

Murphy said this is largely because students aren’t calling Property Standards with their complaints, and are relying on services provided by Queen’s instead.

Guards on stair railings are one of the most common work orders released by Property Standards for student houses.

“The loads on those, they’re supposed to be able to take a couple hundred pounds, you get a few people sitting on them and you can go over backwards,” Murphy said.

Stairs can also pose a safety issue when screws are loose or they’re starting to rot, he said.

Pam Landy, environmental support officer with Kingston, Lennox, Frontenac and Addington Public Health said mould in buildings is generally indicative of larger structural problems. “People need to realize that moulds are everywhere,” Landy said. “The only thing to do to keep mould out of the home is reduce the moisture level.” Mould spreads using spores that can be carried though the air.

“These little spores are very resistant to drying, they need a nutrient of some source, some moisture, and usually like some warmth.” For people who already have respiratory issues, exposure to mould can heighten allergic respiratory responses.

To lessen the development of mould, Landy said it’s important to notice when something becomes saturated with water and to clean and dry it within 48 hours.

Asbestos, a once-common method of insulation can become a major health concern if left untreated.

“Asbestos was used in older buildings,” Landy said. “If it’s not flaking or damaged, the best recommendation is to leave it be. If you’re going to remove asbestos you need a professional.” Samatha Rice, chair of the AMS-run Student Property Assessment and Dwelling Education Team (SPADE), said the age of Kingston housing has lead to some illegal living situations.

“One of the biggest and most concerning is actually students living in basements which are technically cellars,” Rice said. “They’re not 50 per cent above ground and it’s illegal to have someone live there.”

In the past, Rice said SPADE has done housing “blitzes” where the team will partner with Kingston Property Standards representatives to inspect student houses — a process the occupants must consent to.

Structural issues resulting from flooded basements can pose health risks.

Kingston’s Property Standards bylaws make provisions for the presence of pests as well.

Section 4.26 of the bylaw reads, “Buildings shall be kept free of rodents, vermin and insects at all time.” But according to Joan Jones, this isn’t always the case.

Jones, Town-Gown Relations co-ordinator, said it’s not uncommon to find insects and rodents in student houses, though she doesn’t think their presence is greater than in any other Kingston area.

“Dealing with pests is a shared responsibility,” Jones said, adding that while landlords are responsible for the removal of pests, students need to make prevention a priority.

“When students go for the summer and leave food in the house, some hungry rat or mouse is going to find a way in,” she said. “Their job is to take out the garbage regularly ... put their food away properly.” Landlords are obligated to seal the points of pest entry. Jones said rats, mice and bats are most common in student houses, though squirrels, raccoons and skunks have made appearances in the past.

She said rodents are particularly attracted to water sources.

“They’re thirsty little beasts,” Jones said, adding that a leaky fridge can create puddles where rodents will drink.

The University regularly issues information about handling bats in campus buildings and student houses, she said.

“It’s pretty tempting if you’re not afraid of bats to touch them,” Jones said. “But just opening a window will often let them out safely.”

She added that bats aren’t exclusive to older properties.

Included in the Property Standards bylaw are insects. Often referred to as the “Ghetto bug,” house centipedes are indicative of a larger insect problem, Jones said, because they feed off smaller insects like ants and spiders.

“We only get a few complaints about cockroaches,” Jones said. “And once you can get rid of them, they should be gone for good.”

Fleas and bed bugs are seen less frequently, though according to Jones they’re far more difficult to be rid of.

“We’ve had students who have been seriously impacted by a place where there was previously a pet [who carries the insects],” she said. “Mostly it’s not buying things that could have pests already living in them.”

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