Roughly 250 people forced to evacuate Winnipeg apartment building deemed unsafe

Approximately 250 residents of a St. James area apartment building will have to leave their homes immediately, as the City of Winnipeg issued a vacate order over unsafe conditions.

The city issued the directive Thursday to the owners of Birchwood Terrace at 2440 Portage Ave, under the Winnipeg Building By-Law and the Emergency Management By-Law.

This evacuation order comes after a third-party engineering inspection of the 171-suite building found severe deterioration of its structure in several locations.

“This order was issued to prevent a potential disaster,” said Jason Shaw, deputy chief of emergency management & public information, during a Friday morning news conference.

Shaw told reporters that the inspection found the columns supporting the building to be structurally unsound. He believes the building was constructed in the 1960s.

Officials have been going door-to-door to tell tenants about the situation and ensure the building is vacated. Residents of neighbouring properties will also be informed they are on evacuation watch, and told to prepare for possible evacuation.

The city noted that it has been in contact with the property owner, Ladco, and property manager Lakewood Agencies, about the requirements of this order, which include immediate evacuation, prohibiting entry to the property until it is deemed safe, and continuous 24/7 monitoring of the property.

The city says it has set up a reception centre at Holiday Inn Airport West (2520 Portage Avenue) to support residents and help them find alternate accommodations.

Mayor Scott Gillingham called it an “emotional and difficult time for residents” of the building. He said by 8:45 a.m. Friday morning, 50 people had been helped at the reception centre set up at the Holiday Inn.

“The City of Winnipeg will continue to support you in any way that we can as you navigate this challenging time,” Gillingham said.

The timeline for repairs has not yet been determined; however, it’s expected to take several months.

CTV News Winnipeg has reached out to Lakewood Agencies for more information.  

Residents left scrambling

Moving vans and trucks could be seen at the building as residents left with their belongings Friday morning. Winnipeg police and firefighters were on hand to help.

Andrew Boyce, a resident of the building, said he’s in the process of packing up his belongings and trying to find a place to live.

“I might have to drive 1.5 hours out of the city to find that place to live right now,” he said in an interview on Friday morning.

“They’re offering me options. Those options aren’t feasible.”

Boyce said he is looking to file a lawsuit against the building.

He noted that people need to be careful about who they sign a lease with.

Residents receive letter 

Residents received a letter from Lakewood Agencies about the order to vacate, including a list of housing options attached, according to the letter obtained by CTV News Winnipeg.

“Damaged structure has been discovered,” the letter reads. “There may be more damaged structure, but further investigation cannot proceed if the building is occupied. Furthermore, repairs cannot be completed while the building is occupied.”

The letter also states leases are considered terminated and cheques with pro-rated rents and damage deposits with accrued interest will be available during a 3 p.m Friday Tenant Information Meeting. It will be held at the Holiday Inn Airport West, 2520 Portage Avenue in the Chateau Riel Room. Tenants are invited to register at 2:30 pm.

Once work is completed, the tenants will have first right of refusal to return to their unit. 

– With files from CTV’s Joseph Bernacki.

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