A plan for mandatory, annual inspections of rooming houses should be ready for implementation by the fall.

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This article was published 11/7/2016 (2178 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

A plan for mandatory, annual inspections of rooming houses should be ready for implementation by the fall.

While the deaths of two people in a rooming house fire last week revealed the lack of any requirements for mandatory inspections, Winston Yee, the city's manager of bylaw enforcement, told a civic committee Monday he has been working with the Winnipeg Fire Paramedic Service since late April for a way to co-ordinate inspections by fire inspectors and bylaw officers.

ARLEA ASHCROFT photo</p><p>Above left: Officials investigate at the rooming house at 186 Austin St. North Thursday. Above right: The rooming house well involved with flames early Thursday.</p>

ARLEA ASHCROFT photo

Above left: Officials investigate at the rooming house at 186 Austin St. North Thursday. Above right: The rooming house well involved with flames early Thursday.

"We are looking a current measures we have in place, as well as regulatory tools available to us and opportunities we can leverage existing measures as well as resources," Yee told councillors on the protection, community services and parks committee.

Yee said he could have a plan ready for the committee's consideration within 90 days.

Earlier in the day, Point Douglas community activist Sel Burrows said the deaths of two people in last week’s fire on Austin Street North might have been prevented had the building been inspected for fire safety violations.

"These are vulnerable people," Burrows said of rooming house residents. "It’s easy for the city to ignore them, their safety and their needs."

JOE BRYKSA / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS Police have a large perimeter set up around a double fatal house fire at 186 Austin St N as fire officials investigate-The fire started at aprx 130 am this morning.July 07, 2016 -(Breaking News)</p>

JOE BRYKSA / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS Police have a large perimeter set up around a double fatal house fire at 186 Austin St N as fire officials investigate-The fire started at aprx 130 am this morning.July 07, 2016 -(Breaking News)

Burrows had originally planned to appear before the protection, community services and parks committee to demand annual inspections to ensure rooming houses comply with the city’s Neighbourhood Livability bylaw.

The proposal for the inspections originated from Couns. Ross Eadie and Janice Lukes, who proposed at an April council meeting that city officials do what it takes to ensure rooming houses are inspected annually. But Lukes admitted she was originally referring only to livability standards, adding she believed that rooming houses were already inspected annually by fire inspectors.

In the wake of the Austin Street fire, city officials acknowledged there are no mandatory inspections of rooming house.

Eadie said he was pleased with Yee's timeline and urged him to report back to the committee sooner if possible.

"We all understand the need to get something moving along here as soon as we can," Eadie said

City officials confirmed that inspections for livability standards only occur on complaints or when new owners apply for a licence.

The city has 176 licensed rooming houses and another 469 facilities that had been single family homes or duplexes that have been converted into triplexes or four-plexes.

Rooming houses and converted residences used to be inspected for living standard violations every two years but, when the livability bylaw came into effect in 2015, those inspections were eliminated in favour of a complaint-based process. The Winnipeg Fire Paramedic Services committed to inspecting rooming houses and other converted residential dwellings on an annual basis but has been unable to do all 645 buildings.

Yee said that while it took two months for the proposal to get to the committee, his staff have been working on a plan during that time.

Janet Bier, director of fire prevention, told reporters that fire inspectors managed to inspect 557 of the 645 buildings last year.

Bier said the WFPS charges owners of industrial buildings an inspection fee and added that, as Burrows suggested, extending that fee to rooming house owners would help generate necessary revenue to hire more inspectors.

Bier said the Austin Street rooming house was last inspected in February 2014 and it was fully compliant then.

Burrows dismissed suggestions that the city doesn’t have enough staff to do inspections, saying staffing levels are a deliberate administrative decision.

"I can’t tell (city officials) how to do their job, but I can tell them they should be doing their job," Burrows told reporters.

Burrows said most rooming house owners are responsible individuals but added that there are often bylaw breaches with those properties. While he and others can spot problems with the outside of rooming houses, Burrows said he can’t get inside, which is a strong reason for annual inspections.

While arson is suspected as the cause of the Austin Street fire, Burrows said inspections could have ensured that the building had working fire alarms and fire extinguishers.

aldo.santin@freepress.mb.ca