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Dahl House residents evicted after engineer’s report highlights fire safety issues

by Sylene Argent

On February 9, one of the Town of Essex’s Chief Building Officials attended the Dahl House property, located in downtown Essex Centre, with an Order to Remedy Unsafe Building and an Order Prohibiting Occupancy of an Unsafe Building.

  As a result, all 11 tenants of the six-unit apartment building, along with their 15 pets, were required to be out of the apartment facility just three days later, at 4pm on February 12.

  In November, officials from Essex Fire & Rescue Services were notified of potential fire hazards at the building and later conducted a joint inspection with the Town’s Building Department. A number of safety concerns related to fire separation and access/egress were discovered. In December, the building’s owner was required to get an engineer or architect to assess the safe exit, HVAC, and fire separation and penetration issues in the building. This order was provided to the building owners and all tenants residing there at the time, a statement from the Town of Essex notes.

  The report created on the matter noted, in the engineer’s opinion, the building was unsafe for occupancy and that tenants should be immediately removed, notes the statement from the Town of Essex. On February 9, the Town’s Chief Building Official received a copy of the report from the engineer.

“This was not a decision that the Town of Essex or the Chief Building Official has taken lightly and our hearts go out to all the tenants impacted by the order. As a Town, we have a legislated responsibility to ensure the health and safety of our residents. We recognize the impacts that the order will have on the lives of these tenants, but given the state of the building and the results of the engineer’s report, there were no other options,” the statement from the Town of Essex noted.

  Dianne Bishop, daughter of the building’s owner, Eugene Dahl, said at this time, the tenants need help. “They need a place to go,” she said, noting anyone with any permanent housing tips can contact her via her social media account. She will be glad to forward the info to the former building’s tenants in need.

  Some of the former tenants have found somewhere to go, others are still in need to find a place.

  Bishop was surprised with the eviction. The issue, she said, is that the staircase and walkway are made of wood, and inspectors required it to be made of steel for fire safety purposes. Inspectors also wanted two additional staircases added as fire escapes, she added.

  Other required upgrades, she said, included adding fire-retardant drywall to a few apartments. 

She wondered if apartments and businesses should be inspected yearly, or provided notices to update everyone on new code policies.

  The required work would have been done, had they known about it, she claimed.

  She noted the engineer report was late, due to COVID. In December, she said she obtained an engineer to conduct the study three-days after they were told to go through the process.  

  The Town issued the eviction the day after the report was submitted, Bishop said.

  The building has sold, Bishop said. A party that had been interested in the building prior to the report still went through with the sale. She said the sale went through on Friday, hours after tenants were required to leave. Her father owned the facility for over 30-years.

  “[We had] two-and-a-half days’ notice to get out in the winter, with COVID,” Bishop said, adding it would have been helpful to have a longer timeframe for the tenants to move. “Everybody’s scrambling,” she said.

  She spoke of the relationship the tenants have formed over the years, noting one couple has lived in the building for over two-decades. “It is like one big family there. Everybody helps each other. We give each other stuff.”

In early December, the statement from the Town of Essex adds, the Town’s Chief Building Official also contacted the City of Windsor’s Housing and Children’s Services division to advise them of the issues at Dahl property. The Town will provide the tenants with available information about local housing resources. The Town has also provided all tenants with a signed letter to assist with priority applications to the Central Housing Registry-Windsor Essex County.

© 2021 The Essex Free Press ltd.

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