Tenant wants mice, rot issues addressed

Barb Sweet bsweet@thetelegram.com
Published on May 31, 2014

A Buckmaster’s Circle woman says Newfoundland and Labrador Housing Corp. (NLHC) won’t do anything about poor conditions in her apartment, including a major mouse infestation and rotting, leaking windows.

Veronica Butler, who has lived in the two-bedroom, two-storey unit for about 20 years, said she’s got a living room window that housing workers nailed shut, mildew or mould in various areas, and leaks in her upstairs plumbing that’s caused ceiling damage.

“I didn’t cause these problems,” Butler said Friday.

“Now I got to go public. … So whatever happens after this I got to face the consequences.”

“They are the cause of Newfoundland and Labrador Housing. This happened over the years. This is their responsibility. I can only bring it to their attention.”

She has been trying for five years to get some of the problems fixed, she told The Telegram and St. John’s South Liberal MHA Tom Osborne, who has been lobbying the province to beef up the Landlord Tenancy Act.

But in this situation, Osborne said, the landlord is the province through its low-income housing agency.

“She’s told me she’s five years trying to get housing to fix those leaks. That’s far too long,” Osborne said.

“If these were private landlords they would be forced to carry out those repairs. Government themselves are responsible for the Landlord-Tenants Relations Agency. Government own this building. So it’s a double standard that government themselves have, where they are saying on one hand landlords and tenants have to treat each other with respect. On the other hand, they are the landlord and they aren’t carrying out the work that has been requested of them.

“Boards around windows rotting. Windows are nailed shut. None of these conditions are acceptable.”

Osborne said Butler has to tidy her unit and get rid of some clutter.

But he doesn’t think tenants should be expected to do their own painting — after such a long period of occupancy — and flooring, as Butler has attempted to do, even trying to level it. She spilled paint on 20-year-old carpet and Housing said it won’t replace it.

“If you are going to rely on tenants to do their own painting, tenants are not professional painters — you can expect spills on carpets,” he said.

A spare bedroom smells musty because water has seeped under the wooden window through the drywall underneath.

Butler won’t open her kitchen cupboards because she says mice are running through them, chewing holes and running across her countertop and over her stove and into the burners.

She said the mice problem worsened when the unit next door caught fire — it’s empty and boarded up.

There was a large hole in the wood exterior by her door and she said Housing covered it with tin.

Dennis Kendell, NLHC executive director of regional operations, couldn’t discuss the specifics, but said some problems have been addressed and there has been an issue with accessing the unit to do other repairs.

Kendell said that’s a common problem, with some housing clients not answering the door at prescheduled appointment times and not replying to door knocker cards left by maintenance.

‘We’ve tried to respond on several occasions. We haven’t been able to access the unit,” he said.

“The onus is on the tenant to call back and reschedule. … It’s a challenge for us all the time.”

He said there is no issue with NLHC’s maintenance budget delaying necessary repairs.

“The modernization and im­prove­ments budget is three times what it was in 2004,” he said.

Kendell said housing deals with complaints of rodent infestations and has a standing contract with a local pest control company.

Kendell also noted that units such as those at Buckmaster’s Circle in St. John’s were last overhauled at least 10-15 years ago and are coming back around for refits.

He said there are 3,000 housing units in the city, with 300-500 being refitted with new building en­velopes every year. Approximately 75-85 per cent of the housing stock has been renovated and is in good condition, he said.

Interior makeovers, including new kitchens and bathrooms, are typically done on units in the winter, after exterior upgrades.

As for the house that is boarded up from the recent fire, Kendell said it takes time to clean units out, assess damages and call tenders. Fires are unexpected and not covered in the regular maintenance budget.

Butler said she was also concerned about exposed wrap around pipes in the basement, suspecting the material to be disturbed asbestos.

But Kendell, who viewed the photo, said he would be surprised if it is, because of the remediation work NLHC has done in its units.