A private member’s bill proposing time limits for elevator repairs passed second reading at the Ontario legislature last month.
If it becomes law, the Reliable Elevators Act would require maintenance contractors to restore out-of-service elevators within 14 days in most buildings and within seven days in long-term care and retirement homes. To mitigate the impact of the inevitable occurrence of periodic outages, the Act would also require elevator traffic studies as part of building permit applications to ensure developments of seven or more storeys have adequate capacity from occupancy onward.
But the details of the proposed legislation are subject to change as it heads to the standing committee on regulations and private bills.
Constituents, contractors and politicians of all stripes have come out in support of the Act since it was introduced by Han Dong, the Liberal MPP for Trinity-Spadina. However, some opposition MPPs qualified their support, with a few suggesting building owners and landlords should share some of the onus for timely elevator repairs. And contractors are cautioning that, without amendments, the proposed legislation could have some unintended consequences.
Changes to improve the reliability of elevators can’t come soon enough for some residents.
“My dad is in a wheelchair, he’s very ill and he goes for medical appointments quite frequently,” said Gabriela Gonzalez. “He lives in the 21st floor of this rental building in North York, and in many, many occasions, both elevators have been out of service.
“And you can imagine he needs to go to hospital for, literally, life-saving procedures, and he’s not able to go to the hospital.”
Gonzalez, who was joined by her dad, Lazaro, expressed their gratitude to Dong at an April 13 press conference held by the MPP just hours before his proposed legislation went into second reading.
During second reading, Minister of Government and Consumer Services Tracy MacCharles said she agreed that more should be done, pointing to existing obligations under the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act. Those obligations include posting notices when elevators go out of service and putting in place documented accommodation plans.
John Yakabuski, the Progressive Conservative MPP for Renfrew-Nipissing-Pembroke, said during second reading that he was concerned that holding contractors alone accountable for keeping elevators up and running could make it harder for older buildings to secure contracts.
“I’d like to see some of that responsibility for non-functioning or non-working elevators placed on the ownership of the buildings, not just the elevator contractors,” he said.
Similarly, Peter Tabuns, the NDP MPP for Toronto-Danforth, suggested during second reading that the bill should also protect residents from landlords who neglect elevator maintenance.
“There may well be operators of buildings, landlords and condo corporations who … may not, in fact, have put in place the maintenance contracts that are required, or put in place the reserve funds to buy parts to make sure that if repairs are necessary, obsolete part can be changed out very quickly,” said Tabuns.
Since then, Minister of Housing Chris Ballard has introduced the Rental Fairness Act, which includes provisions that would stall the approval above-guideline rent increases until landlords cleared any outstanding work orders relating to elevators.
At his press conference before second reading, Dong said that he would be “open to constructive suggestions and even amendments” if his bill proceeded to committee. The governing Liberals have the numbers to decide votes as the bill moves forward, and the MPP said many of his cabinet colleagues had expressed their support, as had the premier.
Doug Guderian, a board member of the Canadian Elevator Contractors Association (CECA), said CECA supports the goal of improving the reliability of elevators. But he added that, as it’s written now, the bill could increase costs and even cause delays in elevator repairs.
“Currently we repair most elevators within a day, but this legislation shifts the elevator contractor’s priority from repairing the elevator to documenting the cause of the shutdown to limit liability since the proposed legislation carries some pretty significant consequences,” said Guderian.
The proposed legislation would establish the time limits for elevator repairs via the Consumer Protection Act. Individuals and corporations convicted of offences under the Act face maximum monetary penalties of $50,000 and $250,000, respectively.
As the bill heads to committee, CECA will be watching for provisions that deal with elevator work that takes longer than 14 days to complete. Guderian cited “acts of God,” such as flooding, and planned modernizations, which can span four to eight weeks, as examples.
At his press conference before second reading, Dong acknowledged concerns about these types of extenuating circumstances, which could be addressed with an exemption clause. The MPP also recognized the role played by independent contractors, who have taken exception to media accounts of an industry overshadowed by four big companies.
“I want to take this opportunity to also send out a message to independent contractors, especially those that are taking their job seriously and doing their best to ensure reliability of the elevators they look after,” said Dong. “I want to thank them, and I want them to understand that this is a great opportunity for them to share best practices, to bring the industry to a unified standard so customers, ultimately, will benefit.”
Michelle Ervin is the editor of CondoBusiness.
Pictured above (left to right): Lazaro Gonzalez, Gabriela Gonzalez, Kevin Vuong and MPP Han Dong.