Family fights for refund after sewage spills into apartment

Angela Wills had a healthy baby girl at the Saint John Regional Hospital on Tuesday morning.

It's a happy distraction after weeks of turmoil that included raw sewage backing up into the Broad Street apartment she shares with her children and husband, Cleophas Hillier.

Wills has been fighting for a partial refund on the March rent after what she describes as 12 days of misery that included sewage coming up her bathtub drain and overflowing from the toilet on several occasions.

The basement floor below her first-storey apartment at 120 Broad St. is white with lime powder, which she said is covering fecal matter that's now been there for weeks.

Had to miss work

Speaking Monday, Wills said the plumbing repairs were mishandled, with the sewage break in the basement followed days later by a sewage backup, which landed muck in her apartment from the two units above.

Her husband missed several days of work to help deal with the situation.

The couple moved into the $1,200-a-month apartment March 9 and were charged $930 for that month.

But Wills said the property management company, Canada Homes for Rent, has offered only a $50 refund, something she described as "a kick in the teeth."

"I spent more than $50 on cleaning supplies alone, to clean up their mess."

Homestar, the company sent to fix the problem, "didn't lay anything down on my floor," she said. "They had raw poop on my floor. I was cleaning with Javex every night, scrubbing floors. My kids running in and out of here."

Family fights for refund after sewage spills into apartment

Wills said she and her husband are looking for a new apartment for May 1.

The Broad Street apartment is owned by Outlaw Trucking Ltd., which lists Mark Hatfield and Jeff Murray, both of Quispamsis, as its directors.

Murray is the owner of Canada Homes for Rent, and Hatfield owns Homestar Inc.

Reached by CBC News, Murray acknowledged the sewage leak into the basement and the backup into the apartment unit and said the family is "justifiably" upset.

But he said he had the apartment professionally cleaned and has replaced the vanity and toilet.

"Everything at that time seemed fine until it got toward the first of the month, when rent's due," said Murray. "And that's when, when I'm dealing with tenants, that seems to be when everybody starts looking for a handout or a discount for whatever reason."

Suggests insurance

He said the family should have taken out a rental insurance policy, which, he claimed, would have covered other damage.

He said his company reacted appropriately and quickly.

"It's a money grab in my mind. I get upset because of the fact that people just want to do this to extort me, so that I just give them money."

Vanessa Barrasa, a spokesperson for the Insurance Bureau of Canada, said the organization cannot comment on individual cases when it comes to tenant's insurance.

"The best advice we could offer is that the tenant should report their loss to the insurer of the building owner, who can then investigate to determine who is responsible," said Barrasa.

Apartments must be 'fit for habitation'

The New Brunswick Residential Tenancies Act requires that landlords deliver and maintain apartment units in "a good state of repair and fit for habitation."

But Saint John lawyer Lisa Keenan said disputes over damage are usually not covered by the act.

"Anybody can bring a cause of action in small claims court against a landowner for a failure to provide, I guess, a duty to care to an apartment," Keenan said.