TORONTO—Maintenance contractors would be held responsible for getting broken-down elevators up and running in relatively short order under proposed novel legislation in Ontario that seeks to address what some have deemed a crisis.
The legislation, which also calls for changes to the provincial building code, is expected to be introduced by Liberal MPP Han Dong, who has spent months crafting the bill.
Under the Reliable Elevators Act, elevators in most buildings would have to be repaired within 14 days—seven days for those in long-term-care and retirement homes. The bill aims to amend the definition of a consumer under the Consumer Protection Act to include those who hire elevator-maintenance contractors.
“The building owner is the consumer and the contractor is the service provider,” Dong said. “So, the contractor will be responsible to comply.”
The approach would subject contractors to a wide range of punitive measures—such as black-listing, public shaming, or prosecution—that exist under the Consumer Protection Act and which the Consumer Services Ministry already enforces.
The proposed legislation seeks to bridge a glaring gap between current stringent safety regulations and “elevator availability” in which users have little recourse beyond yelling at a building manager who may be stymied in efforts to get the situation fixed.
Dong said he was inspired to act after The Canadian Press reported last summer on extensive problems in the elevator industry, and he was getting an earful by constituents in his Toronto riding. Apart from frequent outages, he said, paramedics on one occasion took more than an hour to get a senior down from the 11th floor of a building because the only elevator large enough was out of service.
“One complaint that stood out was about the elevators,” Dong said. “It’s more than accessibility. It’s actually a health and safety issue.”
The Canadian Press investigation last year uncovered widespread elevator problems across Canada—from people getting trapped, to seniors stuck in their apartments for weeks on end. Latest figures, for example, show firefighters in Toronto alone had to pry open elevator doors to free 3,647 people in 2016. They’ve already been called out more than 400 times this year.
While some issues relate to older elevators, even new luxury highrise condos have endured weeks of disgruntled residents when elevators have stopped running and parts have needed to be sourced from abroad.
To ensure adequate service in new buildings, the second part of Dong’s bill would make elevator-traffic studies mandatory under the building code, which now requires only that a building of more than seven storeys have at least one elevator.
“A lot of developers go the extra mile to get a proper assessment to make sure the elevator service is up to standard, but I feel that with all these vertical communities happening, we need tighter regulation,” Dong said.
Rob Isabelle, an engineer and veteran elevator consultant, said Dong’s ideas made good sense but the devil was in the details. Among other things, he wondered if old elevators with obsolete components or building owners who fail to pay contractors would be exempt and at what point it would be mandatory to add more elevators.
“Theoretically good,” Isabelle said of the approach. “Practically challenging.”
Analysts like Isabelle have tended to blame the often dismal situation on a tight-knit industry dominated by a handful of mega multinationals, who have little incentive to address the availability problems.
In January, one of those companies, ThyssenKrupp, was fined $375,000 for failing to keep a Toronto elevator in a state of good repair, leading to a terrifying mishap that left a man with a serious leg injury. But as long as an elevator poses no imminent danger, no one currently enforces elevator reliability.
“Something has to be done,” Dong said. “Hopefully, the industry will change its practices and find some reasonable solutions.”
While private member’s bills seldom make it through the legislature, Dong did successfully spearhead an initiative to regulate home inspectors that was essentially adopted by the government.