CBC News: Some Calgary tenants say building’s facelift leaves them vulnerable to thieves
Posted June 26, 2023
The owner, Great West Life Realty Advisors, has boosted security presence
Elaine Haynes says she and her neighbours have been living a construction nightmare for months as their building in Calgary’s Beltline undergoes a major exterior facelift.
The reported problems at Panorama Court are many: extremely loud noise, limited light and airflow into their suites, intruders scaling the scaffolding to steal items from balconies and suites — and, in some cases, a 30 per cent rent hike.
“As tenants, we are dealing with a lot. People with health issues are disrupted. Children, pets are disrupted. It’s been traumatizing,” said Haynes.
The building’s owner, Great West Life Realty Advisors, began construction last fall. It’s removing the brick exterior at 617 15th Ave. S.W. and replacing it with energy-efficient cladding.
Those living on the building’s north side have lost access to their balconies and are allowed to open their patio doors only a few inches for airflow. On the south side, some tenants’ windows are covered but tenants can use their patios.
Elaine’s daughter, Stephanie Haynes, also lives in the building. She says her windows were boarded up at one point and her patio is still inaccessible.
“We were just kind of living in like dark, airless caves for a while there. So, yeah, a few anxiety attacks during that period, I would say,” the daughter said.
GWL told CBC News in an email the older property is undergoing significant work to address the structural integrity of the building envelope to ensure the health and safety of residents as mandated by city regulations. The company said access is limited for the safety of the tenants.
“We recognize that building construction is disruptive to our residents and have made several accommodations to mitigate the impact of the construction,” the email read.
According to the company, the work is targeted to wrap up in September.
Disruptions aside, Elaine Haynes says her biggest concern is the ability of thieves to breach a perimeter security fence and access balconies.
“They get up inside the scaffolding behind the netting and they go up. There’s ladders, and so like they’re, they’re going all the way up to the top floor looking for things to steal,” said Haynes.
Haynes says her daughter’s partner snapped a photo of an intruder outside her window hauling a stolen bike down the scaffolding.
In another instance, a laptop was stolen from an apartment when the thief reached through the little gap in the balcony and pulled it off a table.
“It’s been really atrocious,” said Stephanie Haynes.
Elaine Haynes says tenants have reported the stolen items and raised security concerns with some success.
The company added security overnight on the weekends and this week extended that to seven days a week.
Compensation, not Rate Hikes
Both Elaine and Stephanie say their rent recently went up about 30 per cent when they went to renew their leases.
Another tenant, Bluejay Nanie, says his rent went up five per cent last fall and he expects a bigger hike when his yearly lease is up for renewal again this fall.
“We’re losing and yet we’re paying more,” said Nanie, who noted his partner is unable to garden this summer without the use of their balcony.
Rather than a rate hike, they would like to see some type of compensation such as rent reductions or pro rated rent. But the company told the tenants in April there would be no rebates due to construction, acknowledging it was disappointing.
“Unrelated to these capital improvements, we recently increased rents in our building to better align with market rates,” GWL told CBC News.
The company said the increases vary based on the unit type.
“The new rent rates remain, on average, 27 per cent below current market rates,” a GWL spokesperson said.
Stephanie Haynes says that after being unable to get any clear answers on her own, she and several other tenants decided to come together to form a tenants’ association.
She says most of the people in the building have now signed on.
She says they worked with a non-profit organization called ACORN (Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now). It’s a nationwide union for low- and middle-income renters that has opened a Calgary branch.
“Alberta needs rent control immediately … all of us need to get together and say that enough is enough,” said Stephanie Haynes.
Nanie says if nothing else, this association has created a community of caring that was missing before.
“As a group, we know that we have each other’s best interest at heart.”
In the meantime, some tenants worry the added overnight security won’t be enough. They’re documenting thefts outside of that time period.
But Elaine Haynes says that in this tight rental market she feels she has nowhere else to go.
“The idea of giving notice and having no place to go to, we would have been homeless. So, yes, we signed our lease in June and we had to stay here. But It wasn’t because we wanted to.”
Authored by Colleen Underwood for CBC News