Han Dong, the Liberal MPP for Trinity-Spadina, is proposing to set time limits for contractors called on to fix out-of-service elevators. Dong, whose riding is growing rapidly with the rise of new condos, introduced the Reliable Elevators Act to the Ontario legislature last week.
If passed, the private member’s bill would require downed lifts in long-term care and retirement homes to be repaired within seven days and within 14 days in most other buildings. The bill proposes to establish these deadlines under the Consumer Protection Act, which would be expanded to cover elevator maintenance agreements. This would give building owners and managers recourse to the ministry of government and consumer services’ consumer protection branch to report non-compliance.
The private member’s bill comes in response to concerns Dong said he first heard from seniors in his riding about chronic, lengthy elevator outages, which posed particular problems for people with mobility issues. The MPP said his proposal is aimed at closing a gap in the existing laws.
“The state of safety in Ontario’s elevators is excellent thanks to a regulatory framework for safety through Technical Standards and Safety Authority,” said Dong at a press conference last Wednesday. “However, once an elevator is out of service, there is no specific legislation or regulation to bring them back into service within an acceptable timeframe.”
At present, the MPP said that while most elevator repairs take just days, some take weeks and even months. Dong consulted with industry experts, whom he said largely found the proposed 14-day window to be reasonable.
“Two weeks is a long time for any condo owners, especially for those buildings with two or three elevators,” he acknowledged. “When one goes out, you can imagine how long the line-ups are.”
Dong’s private member’s bill also proposes to amend the Building Code Act to require that traffic studies be completed to determine the number of elevators needed to service new developments of seven or more storeys.
“I’ve seen buildings that are 20 storeys or more having only two elevators,” said Dong. “The problem is, when one goes out, seniors or people with mobility challenges on the upper floors, they don’t want to leave their condo or apartment and they’re basically trapped in their own home, and this is not acceptable.”
The MPP said that the finer points of enforcement would be figured out in the future, citing a clause in his private member’s bill that would allow the ministry of government and consumer services to create regulations. Such regulations could address circumstances under which contractors may be granted extensions on the proposed 14-day time limit for fixing elevators.
Rob Isabelle, chief operating officer at KJA Consultants, said some of the scenarios that would need to be considered include cases where contractors are owed money by building owners or have to order difficult-to-source parts to repair decades-old elevators. That said, Isabelle welcomed the 14-day time limit as a general rule for service providers.
“There’s no major pain for service providers to have an elevator shutdown for four weeks, five weeks, six weeks,” he said. “There has to be something, somewhere, to say, ‘You cannot have elevators shut down for extensive periods.’”
There are several reasons why quick elevator fixes may get dragged out, with the industry the busiest it’s ever been by Isabelle’s estimation. The number of service technicians entering the field has fallen behind demand, he said, which has been propelled by the pace of new construction, retrofits in buildings due for modernization and a recent TSSA requirement to upgrade elevators with single-speed controls.
The impact of out-of-service elevators is felt more in buildings where there are fewer elevators, observed Isabelle. Dong’s proposal for mandatory elevator traffic studies would force developers to show that proposed buildings of seven or more storeys provide for enough elevators.
These studies evaluate quality of service based on the estimated average wait time for elevators during peak periods, explained Isabelle, with 50 seconds being the targeted maximum for residential buildings.
“Fifteen years ago, we would rarely see a residential developer have a number higher than 50 seconds,” he said, “whereas now it’s common to see developers pushing that number higher.”
Isabelle pointed out that with an average peak wait period of 50 seconds, the distribution of wait times would see some people waiting for as long as two to two-and-a-half minutes.
Dong isn’t the first politician in Toronto to propose time limits for elevator repairs. Local councillor Kristyn Wong-Tam, who represents Toronto Centre-Rosedale, asked city staff to investigate service standards for fixing lifts back in June 2014 as part of a comprehensive property standards review.
Coun. Wong-Tam said the property standards review got delayed as city staff in the municipal licensing and standards division tended to urgent work relating to ride-sharing apps such as Uber and short-term rental websites such as Airbnb. The property standards review is now expected to occur later in 2017.
Coun. Wong-Tam said there should be “reasonable” time limits for completing elevator repairs, suggesting that, with a service contract and maintenance program in place, property owners and managers should generally, at a minimum, be able to get problems assessed within 24 hours. She challenged the one-week and two-week windows proposed in Dong’s private member’s bill.
“For some people who are living with mobility challenges, or even parents with strollers or seniors with heavy grocery bags, it’s simply too long,” she said.
Property owners and managers could help hasten elevator repairs by looking at the expected life span of parts and ordering hard-to-source replacements ahead of their anticipated failure, Coun. Wong-Tam added.
Since asking city staff to investigate service standards for fixing lifts, the local councillor has continued to come across elevator issues in all types of buildings, from social housing to rental apartments to luxury condos.
“I’ve heard the horror stories of elevators breaking down in brand new condominiums, where you do have a lot more say and control over your board of directors and your property manager,” said Coun. Wong-Tam, “and even those residents have been struggling because the elevators are not efficient and not working properly.”
Kevin Vuong, who attended Dong’s press conference in support of the proposed Reliable Elevators Act, has dealt first hand with chronic elevator outages as a member of his six-year-old building’s condo board. Vuong, who is also chair of the Southcore Community Association, said the problems his condo board has confronted are widespread in his neighbourhood south of Toronto’s Financial District.
“Effectively there are really only four vendors of elevators, and so, while we are very diligent about having those maintenance contracts, at the end of the day we rely on the vendor to tell us that they’re doing that maintenance,” he said after the press conference.
At Vuong’s building, the vendor said it was doing that maintenance, but it was common for half the elevators to be out of service. His condo board hired an independent auditor to examine the elevators, which he said revealed that that maintenance was not in fact being done.
“Subjecting elevator maintenance contracts to the protections of the Consumer Protection Act will empower vertical communities and condominium boards to hold the elevator industry to account for breakdowns in elevator service,” said Vuong. “It is ultimately in our interest to see this pass.”
Michelle Ervin is the editor of CondoBusiness.