03/27/2017 18:22 EDT | Updated 03/28/2018 01:12 EDT

Ontario bill looks to lift unreliable elevators

A private member's bill in the Ontario Legislature that aims to tackle the problem of unreliable elevators appears to have gained some traction on both sides of the political aisle as it heads toward its first debate.

Consumer Services Minister Tracy MacCharles and Opposition Leader Patrick Brown praised the initiative on Monday.

"It's important to Ontarians that elevators are in good repair so that people don't get stranded, particularly seniors," MacCharles said. "This makes great sense. I'm very supportive of it."

An investigation by The Canadian Press found elevator reliability to be a serious issue across the country. Firefighters are called out to free thousands of people trapped in lift cars every year, while untold numbers of seniors and others are finding themselves stuck in upper-floor apartments or forced to lug groceries up and down stairs.

Elevators in both new condos and older low-rise facilities are frequently out of service for weeks or even months, the investigation found. Despite an increasing reliance on elevators both at home and at work, consumers are essentially at the mercy of property owners and managers, who in turn find themselves at the mercy of elevator companies and contractors.

The Reliable Elevators Act, introduced last week by Liberal government backbencher Han Dong and slated for debate April 13, has two main sections: One aims to set time limits for getting broken elevators back in service — 14 days for most buildings, seven for retirement homes and long-term-care facilities — and involves changes to the Consumer Protection Act.

The second part calls for changes to the provincial building code to mandate elevator-traffic studies for new high-rise buildings.

Dong is a backbencher, which means government support is crucial if the measures are to see the light of day. MacCharles, who called the bill a "great job," said the proposed legislation gets at the issue of maintenance and deserves scrutiny.

Reliability needed for 'vertical communities' 

"Responsibility for addressing non-safety-related elevator-service issues rests with the elevator's owner/operator," Consumer Services Ministry spokesperson Harry Malhi said last year.

"Complaints related to the service of an elevator are best directed to the owner/operator."

That thinking appears to be changing.

Working groups in the Consumer Services Ministry and ministries of housing and municipal affairs are now exploring the root causes of elevator-availability concerns and possible options to address them, Malhi said last week.

For his part, Brown said he thought Dong had come up with a "good idea," saying the reliability issue appears to have flown under the radar.

  • Elevator bill aims to hold contractors responsible 
  • Fixing Ontario's elevator problem
  • Broken elevators a 'crisis' across Canada

"A lot of us were surprised that you could have elevators that were not working in senior facilities," Brown said. "So it seems to be an appropriate solution to a problem that a lot of people were surprised by."

Some in the industry have also expressed support for the proposed legislation, particularly the section that would change the building code to make service levels part of the permit process, especially as more and more high-rises are built.

Dong himself noted the strong rise of "vertical communities" in Ontario.

"With the rapid growth, so, too, grows the potential for more elevators to be left inoperable, leaving residents stranded," Dong said. "The Reliable Elevators Act seeks to address this gap in policy, bringing peace of mind to residents and industry professionals alike in both the current and future market."