Friday, February 10, 2012

Trouble on the (rental) homefront

Last week, when we contacted our tenant about his lease agreement, he informed us of a few things that weren't working the way they should be:  one issue was with the microwave, which we're still dealing with.  The other is the boiler unit - it had been working intermittently, and probably needed service.

I was a bit mortified that everything was breaking all at the same time - especially because our tenant's lease is up soon, and we're hoping he'll stay on after the lease expires.  So now is a key time to convince him what a great place it is, and what great landlords we are!  So I set to work right trying to get both issues fixed.

The old unit

We rent a Quietside boiler unit from a company called Reliance Home Comfort, and it has been nothing short of a nightmare trying to get this problem resolved.  Reliance outsources their service work to a contractor called Dynasty, who determined that the machine was leaking in 5 different places.  They shut down the unit so that it couldn't be used until they came back with parts to repair it.  The problem with that, is that the boiler not only heats the water, but the entire condo too.  So the tenant is without both when the unit is shut off.

Yup, that's cold.

After a few days of frustrating phone calls, some miscommunications, and a no-show appointment with the service techs, we learned that the entire unit would have to be replaced rather than repaired.  But here's the real kicker: our venting on the boiler was apparently no longer up to code, and would have to be replaced too.  The cost of the new venting is to be billed to me.  I would also be left with up to 30' of drywall cut out of the condo, and the onus would be on me to replace and repaint.

You can imagine this news didn't sit well with me, so I spent a good portion of the week on the phone with different agencies, trying to learn my rights.

In the end, I came to an agreement with Reliance, and we finally had the boiler and venting replaced this past Wednesday.  I had to take a day off work to meet the contractors, and I stayed at the condo all day while they worked.  The condo was freezing cold and uncomfortable.  I can't believe our tenant lived like that for a week.  By Wednesday evening, the hot water and heat were both fully functional, but the condo had some significant holes in the drywall.  So yesterday we had a drywaller there, and today he returned to paint.  What a week!

The new unit

It was a definite learning experience, despite all the frustration.  And I learned about some useful resources in the process:

311: The City of Toronto's service hotline was able to confirm for me that there is a Toronto Bylaw which states that as a landlord, I'm required to provide heat above 21 degrees Celsius from September 15th to June 1st.  So I promptly offered the tenant space heaters, although he declined.  311 also provided me with numbers for some other agencies I could contact.

Better Business Bureau: I filed a complaint against the rental agency on Monday.  I'm not sure if it had any impact, especially since 164 other complaints had been filed against the company over the past 3 years.  What's one more, right?

Ministry of Consumer Services, Consumer Protection Branch:  A quick phone call to this government agency provided me with lots of information.  They suggested I send a letter (either by fax or registered mail) to Reliance, stating exactly what the issue is, what outcome I want, and a timeline/deadline.  They even directed me to sample letters on their website.  I did as they suggested, and I do think it helped.  The Ministry wasn't able to help me directly, as they mentioned that as a landlord, I am not the consumer of the boiler unit - despite the fact that I pay the rental fee for it.  I fall into a grey area which makes it difficult for them to step in.

One last suggestion they provided is that I call the Law Society of Upper Canada, and they provided me with a phone number.  I wasn't aware of this, but all Ontarians are entitled to 30 minutes of free legal advice for any particular case they made need assistance with.  I tried the number, and was quickly redirected to a Real Estate lawyer who answered on the first ring, and discussed the whole situation with me.  She was helpful in determining what would be a fair compromise with Reliance.

In the end, both Reliance and Dynasty did pull through for me, and they have kept in close contact by phone to ensure I am getting the service and attention I require.  But I can't help but wonder what the outcome would have been had I not been so vocal and assertive about the issues and my rights.


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    1. Hi Mary, I am in the exact situation with the boiler in the exact same condo complex. Everyone is trying to push the venting costs on to me (landlord) be it my insurance company, reliance or the condo property management - where I could easily make a case on how each could be responsible. I'm starting to lose patience and seeing how you deftly came to a compromise with reliance I was wondering if you would be so kind as to help me in how you came to the compromise and what the compromise was. Reliance is on their way right now for the venting estimate and not sure how to deflect the costs. I know it's unconventional but if you could post or email me back at it would greatly help to hear from someone who came out on top with this issue ( and rightfully so I might add!) thanks again - Joe

  2. Hi Joe,
    Ultimately, the way that I reached a compromise with Reliance, was by filing a complaint with the assistance of the Ministry of Consumer Services. They advised me how to send an official letter, stating my issue, what criteria I would consider it to be resolved, and what timeline I wanted them Reliance to respond within. That letter escalated my issue to someone higher up in the company (Director of Operations I believe), who was willing to compromise.

    I also spoke with a lawyer, who advised that the onus is really on the property owner to keep the unit up to code, and that if Reliance was willing to share the costs, then I should be satisfied.

    One additional note - if you are a landlord, you can write these expenses off on your income tax. So at least if you *do* have to pay to bring your property up to code, there's a bit of a silver lining.

    Good luck!

  3. I was going through the same problem because of of my boiler. I always want my home to be trouble free and that's why I had to call engineer for boiler repair and got solution. I think we must be careful regarding our home improvement.