Frustrated tenants look for answers after fire destroys Mission apartment building

Residents of an apartment building in Mission, B.C., say they’ve been left in the dark by the building’s management company after a massive fire forced them out last month.

More than 80 people were displaced by the fire at Richard’s Court on Oct. 18. Since then, residents like Cyril Hawkins say they’ve been given no indication of when they can retrieve their belongings or get their damage deposits back, and they haven’t been told whether the building will be restored or demolished.

“All I’ve got is a few clothes that I’ve got on my back and a few others at home and my medications,” said the 71-year-old tenant of 30 years.

“Where have I been staying? With my daughter-in-law. If it wasn’t for her, I’d be homeless.”

The fire broke out in the five-storey building early in the morning and grew quickly, forcing residents to evacuate in a hurry. The building was severely damaged but no one was injured.

Shortly after the fire, residents were allowed to return quickly to grab essential items only. Since then, Hawkins says there’s been almost zero communication with residents.

His daughter-in-law, Misty Mail, said she’s been trying to contact the building management company for weeks. The building switched management shortly after the fire and she says all she has received from the current company, MetCap Living Management Inc., are automated emails saying the building is not safe for re-entry.

Building will be unlivable for up to 24 months

On its website, the company says tenants will not be charged rent for the month of November and that they will be reimbursed for the remainder of October.

The company says it is working with Northview, the previous management company, and hopes to have cheques in the mail — although it says the transition to new ownership has “complicated the issuance of the refunds.”

Danny Roth, a spokesperson for MetCap Living, told CBC News that residents should not expect to be able to move back in for 18 to 24 months.

He could not say whether the plan is to restore or demolish the building as crews are still assessing the damage. 

“There aren’t words strong enough to express the understanding that we have of how difficult this is for our residents and the concern and empathy that we obviously have as managers and owners of this community,” he said. 

The company’s priority is in creating a plan for residents to collect their belongings, but he could not say what timeline they’re working with. He recommends residents contact their insurers if they have tenant insurance and bring any questions to management. 

The fire broke out on Oct. 18. (Submitted: Carrie-Ann Blaine and Brad Philcox)

‘I have 60 years of my life in that apartment’

Mail says she feels residents are being forgotten in a web of bureaucracy and that they need more information to get on with their lives. 

“I don’t care about anything but the people that live here,” Mail said.

“A lot of the people that live here are considered low income right now … that just sort of goes with how things are going right now, though, if you’re low income, you don’t matter.”

Resident Carrie-Ann Blaine said the lack of information is leading to speculation and frustration. She worries the building will be rebuilt and rented out at higher prices. 

Meanwhile, she says it has been difficult to replace the belongings that remain in her suite she can’t access. She says she hasn’t received her damage deposit back. 

“We’re struggling to find places to stay because all of our money is tied up in this building,” she said.

Hawkins, who did not have tenant insurance, says the ordeal has left him feeling disposable to the company.

He just wants to know whether a few sentimental items survived the fire.

“I have 60 years of my life in that apartment and a lot of it I will never be able to replace,” he said.

“Pictures of when I was a child in New York, pictures of when my daughters were born, when my grandchildren were born. I can’t get them back.”

Hawkins’ daughter-in-law, Misty Mail, feels residents are being forgotten in a web of bureaucracy and says they need more information to get on with their lives. (Martin Diotte)

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