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Rooming house owner ordered to pay $1.3 million to parents of woman killed in fire

The owner of the illegal Toronto rooming house that caught fire and claimed the life of a 24-year-old woman will have to pay the victim’s parents more than $1.3 million in damages.

The decision Wednesday comes after a five-year court battle between Alisha Lamers’ parents, Janet Moore and Robert Lamers, against the landlord, Konstantin Lysenko.

The parents were also awarded interest and legal costs on the award, calculated from the moment Alisha died six years ago.

No amount of money will bring my daughter back to life. But we did get justice for Alisha, and this justice will benefit everybody and hopefully save lives,” said Robert Lamers outside the Milton, Ont., courthouse after the decision was handed down.

“Hopefully this will be a deterrent for others. Illegal housing kills people, harms people. It has to stop. It’s not acceptable.”

Alisha Lamers was trapped in her basement apartment as flames engulfed the rooming house in November 2013. Firefighters pulled her out and took her to hospital, unconscious and badly burned. She died three days later. The coroner’s report said she was brain dead from a severe lack of oxygen.

Janet Moore and Robert Lamers stand near the tree that was a favourite of their daughter, Alisha Lamers, who was killed in a fire in an illegal Toronto rooming house in 2013. On Wednesday a jury decided the landlord must pay her parents more than $1.3 million in damages. (Turgut Yeter/CBC)

According to the coroner’s report, EMS crews at the scene noted she had no vital signs. They were able to get her heart pumping again, but she went into cardiac arrest twice in the ambulance on the way to Toronto Western Hospital.

Lamers had extensive second- and third-degree burns over 55 per cent of her body, and the coroner noted she suffered brain death due to a severe lack of oxygen.

The six-person jury in the trial found Lysenko responsible for Lamers’ death. The jury noted he:

Failed to ensure a safety plan was “prepared, approved and implemented in the building.” Failed to maintain smoke alarms in operating condition. Failed to have at least two exits for every floor of the home.

An Office of the Fire Marshal investigation had previously found multiple safety violations, including a lack of a working smoke alarm in the basement, bars on the windows and no second exit, as required by law.

The jury determined Moore and Lamers should be given $250,000 each in damages for “the loss of care, guidance and companionship,” another $250,000 each for “mental distress or injury” and over $150,000 each for future costs of care.

It comes on top of a $60,000 fine and a $15,000 victim surcharge imposed on Lysenko in 2015 for violating fire codes in the case.

When asked about the result of the civil case Lysenko would not answer.

He represented himself in the lawsuit.

When he was being cross-examined by a lawyer representing Lamers’ parents, Lysenko admitted that not removing the bars on the bedroom window was “stupid.”

“It was stupid for sure,” he said. “I had to remove it earlier.”

He later said Lamers wanted the bars on the windows and “could not estimate” how dangerous it was.

He said he tried to be a good landlord but didn’t know he needed a licence for a rooming house or that it had to meet fire code regulations.

Illegal rooming houses are an issue across the country. CBC News gathered data from all jurisdictions that track rooming house fires and found that over a five-year period there have been at least 532 rooming house fires which resulted in 47 deaths.

Alisha Lamers, right, and her mother Janet Moore. Alisha, described by her parents as an adventurous jokester, was 24 when she died and had lived in her apartment for just over one month. (Submitted by the Lamers family)

Lawyer Michael Smitiuch, who represented Lamers and Moore, said Wednesday’s decision would be a deterrent for other illegal rooming house operators.

How cities are grappling with unsafe rooming houses

“No landlord should put their health and safety of their tenants at risk,” Smitiuch said. “I think this sends a very strong message that if you’re going to rent a property for money it better be safe.”

Robert Lamers also hopes the decision prompts illegal rooming house owners to take action and follow the regulations.

“I feel some relief that the process is over but personally it changes nothing for my life,” Lamers said.

“I’m lost without my daughter. I’ll always miss her. I miss her dearly. I always will. I’m serving a life sentence with the loss of my daughter.”

A photo taken after the 2013 fire that killed Alisha Lamers shows a staircase from the basement to the main level of the home that was covered over. (Toronto Police Services)