Out of service: Residents of seven-storey apartment building upset by grounded elevator

Tara Jeffrey

Residents of a Sarnia apartment complex that houses many seniors say they feel trapped by the building’s only elevator being offline for up to two months.

Skyline Living notified tenants at the Governor House East last fall that the elevator in the seven-storey building needed replacement. The work has now begun.

A notice from the Guelph-based company said the lift will be out of service six to eight weeks.

“We’ve tried to stop them from doing this until we get accommodations made for those with disabilities in the building, and they have yet to do that,” said Tara Adair, one of the residents at 369 London Rd.

“They refuse to give accommodations for the disabled, saying they have to make their own accommodations.”

Skyline has informed residents an onsite ‘porter’ will be available to help carry groceries, garbage and parcels (up to 15 pounds) up the stairs between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m. daily.

That’s not good enough, said one 75-year-old tenant.

“I still work full-time and I am not home until after 4 p.m. I was very sick a couple years ago and my legs have never really come back. So I am really nervous about having to climb up six flights of stairs,” the tenant said.

I don’t know how I am going to manage. I just feel like they didn’t do enough to help us out, you know?”

Skyline says it will do its best to accommodate any after-hours requests for porter service. But it won’t be providing alternative accommodation.

“We can appreciate the challenge that it’s going to cause for some,” said Jeff Stirling, the company’s VP of corporate communications.

The elevator was a concern even before Skyline acquired the building and is in need of immediate attention, he said.

“Our first hope was to try to just repair, but the more we dug into it the more problems we found… it really is something we have to replace, because the health and safety of our tenants is our primary concern.

“If there’s anything specific that they are looking for, we make sure they’ve got the resident manager’s phone number, who then can help in a lot of different ways,” he added.

Adair said residents of the building feel as though they’re being held hostage. She reached out to City Hall and the offices of MPP Bob Bailey and MP Marilyn Gladu and received little help, she said.

Landlords are required to accommodate people with disabilities “up to the point of undo hardship,” said Andrew Bolter, executive director of Community Legal Assistance Sarnia.

“If all they’ve offered is one staff person to help carry groceries — how does that help someone go up and down the stairs, get to medical appointments, things like that?” he asked.

Efforts to accommodate can include re-housing tenants elsewhere and rent abatement, Bolter said.

“Especially if it’s six to eight weeks — that’s a long period of time. Normally one would expect that they would be talking to the tenants, meeting with them on an individual basis to discuss those needs and tailoring the accommodations accordingly.”

Stirling confirmed the company does not have a policy to provide rent abatement or hotel accommodations.

“But the idea, essentially, by communicating six months out, we understand it’s going to be a challenge for some people and hope that during that timeframe they are able to make some arrangements if they need to.”

One resident said she plans to leave town for a few days each week.

“I have a knee issue, so I would have to take time to climb the stairs,” she said. “There doesn’t seem to be anything in place to assist those who don’t have the ability to use the stairs — especially the ones totally dependent on wheelchairs and walkers.

“I’m not trying to cause trouble for anybody,” she added. “But I just don’t know that they’ve thought this through.”