Residents file $3M lawsuits against city, land owner over ‘unrelenting’ demolition work

2 sets of west-end neighbours allege ‘excessive vibrations’ caused damage to homes

“Unrelenting” demolition.

Vibrations so strong they rattle glassware and knock mirrors off walls.

“Overwhelming noise” making it impossible to read a book, make a phone call, or watch TV.

Those are some of the allegations Toronto resident Renee Soeterik is making about a construction site directly across the street from her west-end home, which she claims has been the scene of demolition work on-and-off since fall 2018.

“I feel like I’m under siege,” she told CBC Toronto.

The mother of four is among two sets of neighbours who have now filed joint lawsuits seeking $3 million from the city and multiple companies tied to the construction site, alleging “excessive vibrations” caused damage to their homes.

In Soeterik’s statement of claim, filed with her husband, Boris Milinkovich, the couple alleges A+ Aero Technology Services, which owns the site located at 989 College St., hired other companies to begin demolition work on a building at the site last year.

“The demolition caused excessive vibrations,” reads the statement of claim.

The couple alleges the demolition continued off and on for months and “caused significant damage to the interior and exterior” of their home on Rusholme Road, directly across the street from the construction site.

It’s like a ‘war zone’

In a July interview on her street, Soeterik said the damage has included her porch detaching from the the brick of her house, her chimney partially collapsing, and various breakable objects — including mirrors, pictures, and glasses — shaking and shattering throughout her home.

It’s like a “war zone,” she said.

Soeterik’s statement of claim seeks $1.5 million in damages, both to compensate her and her husband for repairs to their home and to penalize the defendants for their alleged conduct.

A second statement of claim from another set of homeowners who live two doors down from Soeterik, siblings Eugene Pilkiw and Marta Hajek, makes similar allegations and also seeks $1.5 million.

“The vibrations during the demolition were quite severe … I don’t think an earthquake in my house is something that is acceptable,” Pilkew said in an interview.

None of the allegations in the statements of claim have been tested in court.

CBC Toronto attempted to reach the property owner, A+ Aero Technology Services, through multiple channels over several days, but did not receive any response by publication time.

The legal representative for both sets of neighbours, Michael Reid, a senior law clerk with Will Davidson LLP, also said the company is “evading” being served with the two statement of claims, which were both filed on June 14 — despite Reid’s firm reaching five other companies tied to the construction project and the city.

“These people are being ignored, also by the City of Toronto,” Reid added.

Soeterik called the situation “unrelenting” and “exhausting.”

“I’m a wreck — it’s supposed to be my home, I’ve paid for it, I pay taxes to live there, and I get no support from the city,” Soeterik continued. “I’ve begged the city in dozens of e-mails to please intercede.”

The communications team for the City of Toronto said because this is an ongoing lawsuit, city officials won’t be commenting.

However, the local councillor, Ana Bailao, defended her office’s response to complaints from residents in the area.

“We work within the laws that are given,” she said. “And construction is never easy.”

Bailao also stressed that city representatives have been out to check the site, and receive weekly vibration monitor reports which indicate that the levels are within city limits. It’s also not uncommon for construction to cause issues to neighbouring buildings, she noted.

Demolition can damage nearby houses, experts confirm

Civil engineering expert John Curran, the CEO of Toronto-based company Rocscience, said that research shows it’s entirely possible for houses metres away to sustain serious damage from nearby demolition and construction, particularly through pile-driving and other work that can send energy through the ground.

“Whether or not it causes a problem depends on the conditions of how much energy did you input… and it depends on the condition of the soil,” added Curran, who is also a professor emeritus at the University of Toronto.

Companies can mitigate those impacts by boring instead of pile-driving into the soil, “but it costs more money to do that,” he continued.

Bailao’s office also noted that once construction is complete, the site at 989 College St. is slated to become 17 units of affordable housing, developed with the knowledge of the city’s affordable housing office.

Soeterik said she’s not against construction for a new building, citing another nearby condo project now open nearby on College Street which didn’t cause the same vibrations and other issues.

With that in mind, she’s vowing to continue her fight against all the companies involved in the site across from her home, along with city officials.

“I want the city to intervene on behalf of the owners and renters up and down this street who have a right to live not under siege,” Soeterik said.

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