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'41-storeys, 1 elevator': Toronto highrise dwellers voice frustration with lack of elevator access

A lack of elevator access in some of Toronto’s highrise buildings has left residents frustrated and concerned for their safety.

Patrick Cote lives in a 41-storey building in Etobicoke, Ont., but at times, he says the building operates on only one or two of its three elevators.

“One has been broken for a month,” Cote told CTV News Toronto. “That leaves us with two, but one of them is always reserved for moving.”

“Sometimes, it’s 41-storeys, one elevator,” he said.

For Sharlene Henry, who lives in a downtown Toronto apartment where she says two of the four elevators have been broken for weeks and another is frequently booked, the issue is primarily a safety concern.

“I have no problem taking the stairs,” Henry, who lives on the 27th floor, said. “I just think of those with mobility issues, of children.”

"I have a neighbour with cancer having to take the stairs," she said.

In Ontario, elevators are regulated by the Technical Standards and Safety Authority (TSSA). While there are some minimum requirements in residential high-rise buildings pertaining to firefighter access, the TSSA confirmed to CTV News Toronto there are no regulations in place in the province requiring a certain number of elevators per storey, unit, or resident. There are also no regulations on how quickly residential lifts must be repaired.

“As the regulator of elevating devices in Ontario, TSSA’s focus is on the safe operation of elevators that are installed,” a spokesperson for the authority said in a statement. “TSSA does not have the authority to prescribe a quota with respect to the number of elevators that should be installed in a building.”

When reached for the comment, the City of Toronto said elevators are required to be in good working order and kept clean, according to municipal bylaws, but that its jurisdiction ends there. The city has no bylaws on the number of elevators required in residential or time needed to complete repairs, a spokesperson confirmed.

Cote said he’s contacted his landlord regarding the elevator that's been broken for weeks. They told him there was nothing they could do and directed him to the condo board. The condo board, he says, has not been able to produce any change. Delays have extended the lack of access multiple times, he explained.

“I pay $3,600 a month, and I can’t get to the condo I’ve rented,” he said.

Residential accessibility isn’t an inconvenience or a bother, “It’s a human rights issue,” Hannah Lee, staff lawyer at ARCH Disability Law Centre, told CTV News Toronto.

"There needs to be some type of legislation that spells out, in detail, the need to have a certain number of elevators and to take into account how often they should be serviced,” Lee said

The issue is particularly relevant to people with disabilities or mobility issues and elderly people, she explained.

READ MORE: London, Ont. girl with disabilities unable to leave highrise apartment

“They become basically housebound.”

There are relatively few avenues for recourse in this regulatory realm. Under the Ontario Human Rights Code, there is a duty to accommodate anyone with a disability, unless it causes ‘“undue hardship" for those providing the accommodation.

In some cases however, Lee said, undue hardship is claimed without enough due diligence done to assess what needs to be done to accommodate someone. This problem extends well past elevators, she explained.

“It’s a systemic issue – it points to a general and persistent problem with how we design our societies [...] in a way that presupposes a certain norm and ability.”

A certain amount of maintenance and downtime is expected, Cote said to CTV News Toronto. The resident said he’s lived in highrises all over the country – in Vancouver, Calgary and now, Toronto.

“But this is something else,” he said, adding that tensions in his building are beginning to flare as patience is lost.

“I think there’s going to be a conflict – people get so angry waiting in the lobby,” he said.

Henry said her building’s morale has also been affected.

“Everyone is so angry and people are angry at each other,” she said. “Something’s got to give.” Top Stories

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