Ten years after the L'Isle-Verte tragedy, about a quarter of retirement residences (RPA) are still struggling to comply with the obligation to install sprinklers, while hundreds of others have had to close their doors because, in several cases, they did not do so able to make such an investment.
Published at 10:19 am.
Pierre Saint-Arnaud The Canadian Press
The fire that occurred on January 23, 2014 at the Résidence du Havre claimed the lives of 32 elderly people and shocked the entire province. The investigation by coroner Cyrille Delagé, which concluded with the submission of a comprehensive report in January 2015, led the government, among other things, to issue regulations requiring the installation of sprinklers in all RPAs, with certain exceptions for apartments where accommodates fewer than 10 people.
Small homes damaged
According to data from Seniors Minister Sonia Bélanger's office provided to The Canadian Press, as of Dec. 31, 353 of Quebec's 1,413 RPAs had not yet installed sprinklers. However, 184 of them have fewer than 10 units and could qualify for an exemption if they meet other fire safety requirements.
However, it should be noted that these 353 residential units represent only 4.5% of the existing RPA units. In other words, it is the small, existing homes that are having the most difficulty complying with regulations. Larger senior housing complexes with much better financial standing and all homes built in recent years have included the cost of sprinkler systems in the total construction cost.
The 169 residences that cannot benefit from exemptions “could no longer be compliant on December 2, 2024 and therefore no longer have the right to operate,” explains Hans Brouillette, director of public affairs at the Regroupement québécois des Residences pour Seniors (RQRA). ). “The deadline now really seems too quick to hope that everyone will be compliant by then. »
Coroner Delagé had suggested giving the dormitories five years to comply. This deadline should ultimately be extended to December 2, 2024. Four versions of an aid program to cover these investments were offered in succession.
Clearly underrated help
However, the support offered significantly underestimates the true cost of the required investments and, for RPA of more than 30 units, does not provide a 100% assessment of this already inadequate assessment.
Mr Brouillette gives the example of a 20-unit residence in the region. The owner is therefore entitled to the full grant of $7,000 per unit, an amount of $140,000. However, the estimate for installation is $300,000. And in the regions, he explains, there are additional costs. “The entrepreneur covers travel, accommodation and meal costs. In other cases, a connection to the municipal water network is required. We have seen offers for $100,000, but the subsidy for such a connection is only $40,000. Where will he find the missing $60,000? »
Added to this in recent years are inflation, rising interest rates and labor costs. In addition, not only have insurance premiums increased significantly, but the installation of sprinklers themselves increases the premium due to the risk of leaks in the pipes and resulting water damage to walls and ceilings.
Broken business models
“This regulation, more than any other, has caused costs to skyrocket and explode. This is the pain that hurts the most and is the death knell for many households,” he says.
“These are sudden amounts that completely disrupt your business model and your ability to fund this work. Closures are therefore becoming unavoidable and a large proportion of the closures can certainly be attributed to this measure. »
He emphasizes that security comes at a price in every industry and service and that when regulations are tightened, the costs are passed on to the consumer, user or customer. “In the case of RPAs, this is not possible for two main reasons: firstly, due to rent control – rent increases are regulated, unlike other areas of activity where there is no price control – and secondly, due to the ability of seniors to pay.” Yes, we can ensure their security increase, but where do we get the revenue to pay for this increased security imposed on us by regulation? »
The weight of this regulation weighs relatively much more heavily on small apartments, explains Hans Brouillette. “The costs must be written off over a smaller number of units and therefore over the rental income. It is clear that this was a major challenge for small homes. »
In addition, owners can hardly turn to financial institutions, he explains. “The bank does not want to finance you because your business model does not provide sufficient cash inflows for repayment. »
“We like to say that lives are priceless, but…”
According to the RQRA, Quebec should have provided all financing for these facilities from the start.
“It was the solution. It's too late now. Thousands of retirement homes have been closed in the last ten years, of course not just because of sprinklers, but that is significant.
“The government should and should pay the full amount. The state is taxpayers' money. Do we together want to have a higher level of security in dormitories? We can all agree that lives are priceless. We like to say that lives have no price, but they still have a price when it comes time to measure solvency,” laments Mr. Brouillette.
“Can we afford these costs? Probably yes, if we make the right decisions and set the right priorities. “We should have asked ourselves these questions together back then and answered them with 100 percent funding,” he concludes.