Burnt out—twice
“Smoking kills. If you're killed, you've lost a very important part
of your life.
—Brooke Shields

The owners in this small condo complex had the bad luck of being burnt out twice due to careless smoking. Now they are being penalized by having to wait for their building to be rebuilt—for a second time—and by being hit with a huge increase in fire insurance premiums.

(I would think it is time for a No Smoking article to be added to the Declaration, or at least to the bylaws.—editor)

Fire forces residents out of Vaughan condo building
Vaughan Citizen
by Jeremy Grimaldi
26 July 2012

Concetta Bucco is one of the original owners at 9944 Keele St., a condominium complex inhabited mainly by seniors. In the seven years since the 82-year-old moved in, residents have been forced out of their homes twice because of fires that ravaged the building.

In the 2009 blaze, which crews believe was started by a cigarette butt, some residents were left languishing in hotels and with family members for almost two years as the $1.5 million in damages were repaired.

Many moved back into the Maple condo building in 2010.

Tuesday night at about 10 p.m., fire ripped through the roof and attic of the 31-unit building causing an estimated $3 million in damage, devastating the entire third floor and severely damaging most of the other units with either water or smoke.

As part of the fire fight, 70 people had to be evacuated from the three-floor building and 32 firefighters battled the blaze for almost two hours.
Again, fire crews suspect a cigarette butt to be the cause, although that has not yet been confirmed.

Early Wednesday morning, residents were told to expect another year out of their homes as workers repair the building and entirely rebuild the third floor.

Although some managed to stay with relatives on Tuesday night, 18 others had to stay in the Super 8 Motel.

Mike Di Stefano, 27, whose patio the fire started on, said he was told it began in a potted plant.

“We grabbed every extinguisher and we got much of it out on the patio, but I guess it had already got into the roof.”

Vaughan fire chief Greg Senay said the only things that stopped the whole building from burning to the ground was good decisions by the service’s commanding officers and a fire wall at the rear of the building.

“This was a hard-slogging fire fight because it was in the attic, they are always the toughest,” he said. “I am really impressed with what they (crews) did elevating this to a 2nd and then 3rd alarm fire right away.”

Vaughan condo fire leaves owners in limbo
Vaughan Citizen
by Jeremy Grimaldi
28 March 2013

Fernanda Janicas and her children, Vivian, 23, and Bryan, 16, were forced to move out of their recently paid-off condominium last summer after a fire — possibly sparked by a discarded cigarette — caused $3 million in damage to the building, at 9944 Keele St., near Major Mackenzie Drive.

But the fire was just the beginning of her family’s “nightmare”.

On their own and with nowhere to turn, the Portuguese immigrants moved in with friends in Orillia, forcing them to drive 90 minutes each way to school and work. When Ms Janicas, 53, finally found a place she could afford in Vaughan, she jumped at the chance, despite the drawbacks.

 “I feel like I am living in a nightmare,” Ms Janicas, who works as a cleaner, said. “ I had a nice apartment that I had just paid off and a nice life. Now, I am living in a dump.”

Since spending the $9,000 her insurance company initially provided to help with costs, she has been dipping into her retirement savings to keep the lights on, so far refusing to touch her children’s education fund.

The monthly costs
Her current monthly costs include $700 for the apartment, $300 to store
her belongings while work is being done to the condominium, $55 for property taxes on the home in which she can’t live and $500 in condo maintenance fees.

Those costs are on top of insurance costs for the building, which will run her about $5,000 annually, along with an additional cost, insisted on by the insurance firm, to hire security guards to oversee the reconstruction of the building.

“I don’t know why we need security to guard a burned-out building,”
she said.

Ms Janicas questioned why it has taken the firm so long to get started on repairs. Though the fire was eight months ago, the first signs of work in the complex were in the past two weeks, she said.

“We have only just seen electricians come in. What has taken them
so long?”

There is also a lack of information being provided to residents, many of whom are senior citizens, by the board of directors, lawyers, insurance adjusters and the property manager, Ms Janicas alleged.

“The questions I have asked have been completely ignored.”

Condo fees
Her biggest worry now is with owners’ condo fees reaching about $1,000 a month with new insurance costs, her family will never be able to move back in.

“My best guess is we will have to rent out the unit and live elsewhere,” she said. “I can’t believe this is happening to us.”

Tony Pinto, who has lived in the building since 2004, stayed in a hotel for five months, but has since moved to his daughter’s home after his insurance company stopped payments.

“We are suffering here. Some residents are sick and others have died since,” he said. “I don’t sleep, thinking about what we’re going to do.”

One of the most frustrating parts has been having to pay the condo’s maintenance fees despite no work being done for five months.

Insurance costs skyrocket
The new insurance cost being passed on to residents is exorbitant, Condo Owners Association of Ontario founder and CEO Linda Pinizzotto, said, suggesting the condo corporation is being fleeced by the United Kingdom-based insurer, which is charging $150,000 for the 31-unit building.

“It seems ridiculously high,” she said, pointing to another building that pays $50,000 for insurance and has 312 units.

Although the situation is unfortunate, there is little else those overseeing the insurance tender could do, said Maria Dimakas, a lawyer who represents the condominium corporation.

Because the fire was the second in three years, it was almost impossible to get coverage.

“It was either no insurance or this one offer we got,” she said. “I appreciate people are upset. It’s obviously a difficult situation to go through twice, but we have to have insurance. It’s the law.”

Despite searching around the world, the only offer the insurance adjusters received was from a syndicate of 12 insurance providers, some of which are based overseas, Ms Dimakas said.

As to why work on the building has taken so long, Ms Dimakas said a great deal had to be done before work commenced, including the contractor selection process, safety testing and engineer inspections.

She also refuted claims residents haven’t been kept informed, saying there have been two comprehensive meetings in which everyone involved was present and several updates since.

Although the Ontario Fire Marshal has deemed the cause of the fire undetermined, many residents blame it on a discarded cigarette from one resident.

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