Ontario is kicking the dust off elevator repair legislation that was passed in May 2018 during the previous Liberal government’s tenure, but never proclaimed into law.
In a move that will see better elevator availability and stricter maintenance requirements, recently approved regulatory changes allow the Technical Standards and Safety Authority (TSSA) to impose financial penalties for non-compliance with legal requirements.
Elevator outage data must also be reported to TSSA for online publication. In a statement, the ministry of government and consumer affairs said owners of elevators in a long-term care home or residential building will need to report all prolonged outages (i.e., of 48 hours or longer) to TSSA, along with the cause of the outage and certain characteristics of the building/elevator via an online form. Potential home buyers would be able to search an address and gather this data.
Both changes take effect on July 1, 2022, following government consultations that began last summer on the previously shelved legislation, which was built on recommendations in the 2018 Value-for-Money audit of TSSA by the Auditor General of Ontario, as well as a report by former Superior Court Justice Douglas Cunningham that assessed elevator availability in Ontario. At the time, there was growing concern about prolonged breakdowns in multi-storey residential buildings and long-term care homes.
Fine-tuning the legislation
While a gain for consumers, the legislation falls short of addressing some challenges elevator contractors face on the job. For instance, data could be collected on elevator contractors servicing a problematic 50-year-old building.
“If it’s older equipment that hasn’t been modernized and the contractor has been advising the owner to upgrade the equipment for the past five years, does this still become the elevator contractor’s responsibility to maintain the equipment in excellent running condition?” says Rob Isabelle, chief operating officer with the elevator specialty firm, KJA Consultants, and a member of the TSSA’s elevating devices advisory council.
On the other hand, a contractor might delay repairs if a corporation hasn’t paid their invoices for the past six months. Right now, it’s unclear if contractors will have to repair an elevator in those circumstances.
“There will be some cases where the elevator contractor should be working harder to fix the elevator; there’s other cases where the contractor is probably not responsible to fix the elevator,” says Isabelle. “There are a number of details that will need to be worked out between now and July 1, 2022, and once this gets rolled out, every party will realize this isn’t a simple issue.”
There is also uncertainty about what will happen with the data the TSSA collects. As Isabelle points out, “What is the purpose of the information? Somebody will want to get that data, and that’s why the elevator contractors are concerned.”
Ontario has an estimated 45,000 elevators. “A large contractor might have reported more than 30 elevators shut down for two days, but on a percentage basis of units maintained this number could be much less than that of a contractor who services only 300 elevators,” says Isabelle. “That contractor might only have 10 down, but on a percentage basis, that contractor could be doing a worse job than the larger ones.”
As it stands, there is little elevator legislation out there. The Cunningham report found there were no regulated standards for the number of elevators required in a residential building to match the number of residents, and no formal obligation from the Ontario Building Code. It was recommended three years ago to develop a new standard, but there hasn’t been any movement on that account since.
“Where a building should really have four elevators, some developers are installing only three,” says Isabelle. “Moving day, you’re down to two elevators, and if one is broken, you’re down to one elevator. That’s a problem out there.”
Rebalancing supply and demand
Even in a highly regulated industry, with a small group of elevator mechanics (roughly 3500 in Ontario), the majority of repairs are performed quickly except for a smaller percentage of cases where shutdowns are longer-lasting.
The Cunningham report found in 2017 that TSSA data and expert analysis placed average availability across residential and institutional buildings at 97 per cent, or 3 per cent non-availability, the equivalent of 10 days out of service. Most buildings with low availability were in the Greater Toronto Area, also the location with the most elevators. Condos reported the lowest average availability by building type, at 93 per cent out of the year.
Three years ago, when this legislation was drawn-up, the industry faced what Isabelle calls ‘the perfect storm.’ “There was a ridiculous amount of work and not a lot of qualified technicians to address it,” he says. “Work volume has reduced and the union has let more people in; schools have started elevator apprenticeship programs. We’ve been able to rebalance the supply and demand.”
Since COVID-19, elevator modernizations have also shut down, creating fewer call orders. “Right now, we have the opposite issue; it’s quite slow because a lot of commercial office repairs are delayed,” he adds. “Office building owners are not spending money. Residential building owners have put their modernization work on hold pending the pandemic. Post-COVID, there will be a boom in elevator modernizations.”
On May 13, the ministry of government and consumer services is hosting a free “Elevator Owner Education Webinar” to provide information on responsibilities, requirements and tips for owners of elevators in residential buildings in Ontario. Interested parties can register here.