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Winnipeg’s Birchwood Terrace tenants, neighbours overwhelmed 2 weeks after evacuation

Construction is ongoing at Birchwood Terrace on Winnipeg’s Portage Avenue, as almost 200 tenants mark 12 days since being evacuated from their homes after an inspection showed the building was structurally unsound.

“It’s confusing. It’s overwhelming. I sometimes have to remind myself it’s been six business days, because it feels like months have gone by,” Des Kappel, one of the complex’s former residents — now living in a hotel — said.

Even so, he says he’s had it easy compared to some.

“A lot of those folks, like the folks who are in this building, are seniors. Some on very fixed income. Some are single parents with kids. I really don’t know how they’re going to leave the hotel and actually have enough funds to get somewhere to start rebuilding their lives,” he said.

“Even once some of us get out, pretty much all our possessions are in that building locked up, and we don’t know when we’ll get them back.”

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Just down the street behind Birchwood Terrace is Ron Krug.

He’s been living in his home for 40 years, and is one of many in the area told that they too may have to pack their things.

But, even with an evacuation notice, he still feels left in the dark.

“The most concerning thing is that we’ve not heard anything about what’s happening concerning us. I mean, are we going to have asbestos flying around in the air? Is that why we’re being evacuated? Are bricks going to fly through the air and hit my house?” he said. “What’s the plan? What’s happening?”

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In an emailed statement, the City of Winnipeg said it has no update on the status of Birchwood Terrace, but that an evacuation watch is still in place for properties on Assiniboine Crescent.

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It added that it intends to periodically check-in with nearby residents like Krug.

In the meantime, Kappel says former Birchwood Terrace residents need urgent supports.

“There are people that could really use some mental supports in the hotels,” he said. “This is quite traumatic.”

Kappel also said, “I’m aware there’s some seniors in my hotel, and they’re asking for support with changing diapers. The hotel staff aren’t set up for that. There needs to be supports. Home care for folks, mental supports for folks, and hopefully some financial support.

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“I don’t think any of us are asking for $1 million, just something so we can have a home where we’re safe and don’t have to start over from scratch like an 18-year-old moving out.”

Attorney with the Public Interest Law Centre, Katrine Dilay, said while some losses have a chance of being recouped, there are limitations.

“Unfortunately, under the Residential Tenancies Act in Manitoba, there’s no compensation for stress, for anxiety, or injury to feelings and dignity like we have in other acts,” she said.

Dilay says all former Birchwood Terrace tenants with questions should contact the Residential Tenancies Branch.

“Specifically in this case, we understand that tenants were provided with rent for the month of May and damage deposits were refunded. That would have been our first question in terms of the lease being terminated, as it was in this case,” she said.

Dilay added most tenants, aside from those with a temporary tenancy, should also have a right to first refusal if the apartments are fixed within a year.

“What that means is essentially the landlord would have to come back to folks who were renting at the time that the lease was terminated, and they would have the option of returning if they want, or of saying no if they don’t want to,” she said.

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For those looking to remedy financial losses, the lawyer said former residents would need to demonstrate that loss.

This could be done through receipts, or being able to show what they had in their apartment — for example, food, she said. “If they can show that, that might be considered a financial loss and would be assessed on a case-by-case basis.”

For now, Kappel struggles with his reality.

“At this point in my life, I wouldn’t have expected to be homeless. And I mean, if it was (due to) a fire or something catastrophic, at least I could shrug and go, ‘It sucks that I’m starting over, but at least insurance would cover it,’ which they’re not doing for this,” he said.

“I guess I just have to accept (that) it’s part of life. Sometimes sad things happen and it’s unfortunate, but this happened just due to pure neglect.”

Kappel said he and others struggled with mouse infestations, flooded apartments due to burst pipes, flooring that was falling apart and other issues.

“It’s not just the foundation which is awful,” he said.

Global News reached out to Ladco Company Limited, the owner of Birchwood Terrace, but it did not respond by deadline.

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Kappel said he also has concerns about two other properties nearby Birchwood Terrace that look to be the same age, and are owned by Ladco Company Limited.

When asked if the City had plans to inspect them, it said, “The City does not conduct routine structural inspections of properties. The Winnipeg Building Bylaw states the property owner is responsible to ensure their building is maintained and in a safe condition.”

Click to play video: 'Birchwood Terrace residents still searching for answers, accommodations'

Birchwood Terrace residents still searching for answers, accommodations

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