Vaughan condo fire leaves owners in limbo

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Vaughan condo fire leaves owners in limbo

Vaughan Citizen by Jeremy Grimaldi  – Simcoe.com  Mar 28, 2013

A single mother of two believes the life she worked to build for her children has been all but wiped Condo fire leaves family homeless, helplessaway by one careless act.

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.

Since then, the family has lived in a compact basement apartment, with scant room for anything other than sleeping.

“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.”

Despite living in the cramped space to save money, the worst part of the ordeal has been watching the financial footing she worked toward for years crumble.

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.

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.”

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    “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.”

She is not the only one left on the hook, as all residents were forced out of the building by the fire.

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.

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.

The building’s president is out of town on vacation and could not be reached for comment.

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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About the Author:

Linda Pinizzotto represents Buyers and Sellers in Toronto, Mississauga, Oakville and surrounding areas. She is an award winning, popular and very well known Realtor who is extremely passionate about her profession. She has excellent real estate market knowledge which reflects in her successes with over 30 years experience. Linda Pinizzotto values her clients and reputation, making sure they receive first class advice and information and expertise and protecting their interest every step of the way.
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