‘There was nothing I could do’: Winnipeg property management company pleads for COVID-19 protocol enforcement

By | April 6, 2020

A property management company is calling for enforcement of COVID-19 public health protocols, saying a number of its residents brazenly disregard them because there are no personal consequences.

Brydges Property Management says it has received many calls from residents and on-site staff reporting that neighbours returning from travel are not self-isolating, and physical distancing — or keeping two metres away from anyone outside your household — is being ignored. But the company cannot do anything directly beyond contacting the non-complying residents, because there are no enforcement penalties in Manitoba.

Brenda Brydges, president of Brydges Property Management, said the company went public after she received a call from a tenant last weekend who was trying to use the elevator to pick up a food delivery.

“There was a man riding the elevator up and down, up and down, and wouldn’t let her in,” Brydges told CBC News on Monday.

“She wanted me to go and help her. There was nothing I could do,” she said, choking up.

The management company sent out guidelines to its residents, so they can practise protocols such as physical distancing in their buildings, including riding the elevator with just one other person. The company locked up exercise rooms and took out furniture from their lobbies, but people continue working out and congregating to socialize, said Brydges.

(CBC News)

“I get so many calls from people virtually in tears, not knowing what to do,” she said.

When the company calls residents allegedly not complying with protocols, they’re either hung up on, or the people say it’s their space and they’ll act how they please, said Brydges.

Brydges Property Management runs 175 apartment and condo buildings in Winnipeg and Brandon, which represents more than 5,500 units. Many of those units are privately-owned condos, said Brydges.

The company has reached out to the Winnipeg Police Service, Winnipeg city council, the province and two property management associations for guidance, but nothing can be done until enforcement is put in place, said Brydges.

The company hoping Manitoba follows the lead of provinces like Ontario, which have put in legislation to enforce the practice of public health orders, she said, but it’s now to the point where the company is offering $100 cheques each month to residents who follow protocols.

“If somebody doesn’t step in and give us some help, more people are going to die,” said Brydges.

Latest local news:

As of 9:30 a.m. Monday, public health officials had identified 204 total confirmed and probable cases of COVID-19 in Manitoba. There are 185 active COVID-19 cases in the province; 17 people have recovered, and two people have died from the virus.

There are currently 11 people in hospital, seven of whom are in intensive care.

Manitoba chief public health officer Dr. Brent Roussin said Monday that it is imperative that people take the public health protocols seriously.

“When you get into large groups, and [you’re] not following this advice, you’re putting yourself and other Manitobans at risk. You’re putting our front-line health-care workers at risk,” Roussin said.

“We need Manitobans to realize that this is serious. This is right now life and death for Manitobans. We need to act now and we’re expecting all Manitobans to follow these orders.”

WATCH | Property managers struggling

Shared spaces, elevators present COVID-19 risks, challenges to distancing in multi-family buildings. 2:13

Enforcement stems from Manitoba government

The Winnipeg Police Service told reporters Monday that enforcing public health protocols is not part of its mandate unless directed by the City of Winnipeg, or the province.

WPS spokesperson Const. Rob Carver said provincial health officers are currently in charge of enforcing COVID-19 protocols. 

Meanwhile, the Winnipeg mayor’s office confirmed it had received an email from Brydges Property Management, which was referred to the chief administrative officer, who advised the company to consult the province.

“The Province [of Manitoba] has the authority to enforce their public health orders and they’ve advised us that they are enforcing them,” Mayor’s office spokesperson Jeremy Davis told CBC News in an email on Monday.

Mayor Brian Bowman later told reporters that he wants that clarity “very soon,” saying that the city has fielded numerous inquiries from Winnipeggers about people ignoring physical distancing.

“If we can work to support and complement [the province’s] efforts, that is something we will do,” Bowman said, adding that he’s been pressing the issue with the province for several days but has yet to get any direction.

(CBC News)

“With each passing day, if folks aren’t following the recommendations from Manitoba Health, they’re putting their own safety and the safety of our community in jeopardy.”

During their respective Monday news briefings, both Roussin and Manitoba Premier Brian Pallister alluded to the fact that enforcement is being looked at — though didn’t give any specifics as to what penalties might be.

Manitoba Health, Seniors and Active Living is aware of the situation at Brydges Property Management, a spokesperson told CBC News in an email on Monday.

“The current Public Health Orders apply to businesses and public places. Public health officials are focusing on educating the public about the need to self-isolate and to practice good [physical] distancing at this time,” the spokesperson said.

One possible option to terminate tenancy

Last month, Pallister announced rent freezes and postponements to most eviction hearings until May 31. The exception was risks to health and safety.

In circumstances such as the ones described by Brydges Property Management, the only course of action available is to file for a hearing for impairment of safety, says Avrom Charach, spokesperson for the Professional Property Managers Association.

“You absolutely could terminate tenancy for impairment of safety,” said Charach, citing recent conversations with the Residential Tenancies Branch.

Avrom Charach, spokesperson for the Professional Property Managers Association, said the only action a landlord could take now to evict a tenant is to file for a hearing for impairment of safety. (Gary Solilak/CBC)

“In this case, if someone were … hacking and coughing in your hallway, you could do that. I’m not sure how fast you would do that. But certainly if someone is not respecting orders and is sick — and you know that — that may be the only course of action you can take.”

Charach stressed, however, that a landlord would need strong proof, including several witnesses.

Charach told CBC News that he had spoken with Brenda Brydges about her concerns, then spoke with other companies to see if they’re facing similar issues.

“Most of us are not having the same concerns she’s having at the moment,” said Charach, adding that residents living in buildings owned by Kay Four Properties Inc. — the company of which he is vice-president — are “darned scared to see anyone in a hallway.

“But there are people who just don’t have a lot of respect anywhere in society.”

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