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Tenant calls out smokescreen around fire safety in Toronto

Mark Legate wants more transparency for fire inspections after spending over a year trying to chase one down for his building.

In Toronto you can look up the food safety track record for your favourite restaurant online, but not a fire safety report.

Eduardo Lima / Metro Order this photo

In Toronto you can look up the food safety track record for your favourite restaurant online, but not a fire safety report.

When Mark Legate noticed what looked like a fire code violation, an exit blocked by construction in his building back in April 2016, he called the fire department.

But after fighting through red tape for more than a year, he’s still in the dark about the results of that inspection and another carried out months later.

“I have no idea what was issued,” said Legate. "No clue at all."

Legate followed up with both the fire department and the city but was told that, as a tenant, he had to make a formal freedom-of-information request (FOI). Because of the time and money involved in the cumbersome process, Legate called it quits.

"The more I dug into it, the more it didn't make sense," said Legate, who shared with Metro his email chain with the city and Toronto Fire Services.

Legate has lived in the eight-storey building at 1 Deauville Lane in North York for two years. He initially called the fire department for his own peace of mind and to see if he should up his insurance coverage. But after struggling for so long, he's now calling for more transparency on fire inspections so tenants like him can know what's going on in their own homes.

“Most tenants will have no idea if there are safety issues in their building,” Legate said. Many tenants in his building speak English as a second language, he noted, and they would find it difficult to make an FOI request.

The city confirmed that fire inspection reports are only available through FOI requests and fall under privacy legislation.

Pat Brawn, vice-president and general manager of Briarlane Rental Property Management Inc., which runs Legate's building, wrote in an email to Metro the fire department “found minor issues which were rectified immediately” during both inspections.

Brawn added there were no orders issued and no current fire code violations.

Toronto Fire Services Deputy Chief Jim Jessop said that under the provincial Fire Protection and Prevention Act, fire officials are required to post notices when they issue violation orders.

“Usually these orders, when we post them in apartment buildings, are ripped down the same night because some teenagers will go through. We do not go back and check and repost because we don’t have time,” said Jessop.

Posting is only required for serious violations, not minor issues that still require corrective action, according to the office of the fire marshal and emergency management.

Jessop stressed that Toronto Fire Services would shut down any unsafe building and deal with the risk immediately. If tenants want to know whether their building is up to code, he said the fire department would release that information over the phone — but not details like the number of recent violations or a timeline for correction.

He added that Metro would need to file its own FOI request to find out more details about Legate's building.

Geordie Dent, executive director of the advocacy group Federation of Metro Tenants' Associations, says his office gets hundreds of calls per year about fire safety and joins Legate in calling for more transparency.

Dent’s organization is working on a guide about fire safety, which notes that even if tenants file FOI requests, the reports they get are often heavily redacted.

“Tenants often have concerns that their place could end up being essentially a death trap,” Dent said.

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