Landlord Danny Dear had a crack addict evicted from his Vanier triplex earlier this month, but the apartment is littered with syringes, which Dear says he is not responsible for since many of them came from the city's needle-exchange program. Dear wants the public health department to remove them.

Photograph by: Bruno Schlumberger, The Ottawa Citizen,

Ottawa Citizen

Landlord Danny Dear finally got rid of the crackhead tenant.
But Dear says the now-vacated apartment in his Vanier triplex is nothing short of a danger zone with dirty syringes turning up everywhere.

Dear says the mounds of rubbish and personal belongings that Lenard Gordon Cowie left behind make the situation even more frightful. Dear only collected the needles he could clearly see. He wasn't going to sift through the junk for fear of being pricked and risking an HIV/ hepatitis infection. There was also a boxful of used and unused syringes that Cowie left behind.

After the city told The Public Citizen Friday that it would send in a work crew to do the rest of the needle cleanup, a public health inspector determined the job was a lot bigger than anticipated. Because of all the junk and the likelihood of needles being mixed in, public health now plans to hire a private company that specializes in such work. Who will pay for the needle cleanup will have to be sorted out, says John Steinbachs, a public health manager.

"It's clearly a larger job than (public health is) used to," Steinbachs says.

Dear is furious that he may get the bill. He says Premier Dalton McGuinty and Mayor Jim Watson should visit the apartment to see how government programs for desperados like Cowie are working.

Many of the syringes in the apartment come from Ottawa's needle-exchange program, administered by the city and mandated by the province. "So you come and pick up your needles," says Dear. "I don't know how this became my problem."

Cowie is also on provincial social-assistance, which pays his rent and allows him, says Dear, to become the landlord's worry.

At the very least, Dear says, if the province is going to support such clients to live in quiet neighbourhoods, it also needs to provide supervision. He may have a point considering the magnet for trouble the two-bedroom unit became after Cowie and another man moved in. Dear bought the Gougeon Street triplex three years ago as an investment property.

He unwittingly rented the unit to Cowie last June after he and a woman checked it out. The woman signed the lease and gave him the first and last months' rent.

But Dear never saw her again. Cowie, who is middle-aged, moved in shortly after, and the other man followed. Within days, Dear received a letter from the Ontario Disability Support Program, telling him both men were on social assistance and that it would be covering the $875 monthly rent. But Cowie's roommate moved out last fall, and the rent Dear received from ODSP was cut in half.

Dear went to Ontario's Landlord and Tenant Board twice in four months to try to have Cowie evicted. His first application, last fall, failed because the eviction documents lacked information.

He did not have a lawyer.

But he was successful the second time, in February. He spent about $2,000 in paralegal and court office fees.

Two Ottawa police officers told the adjudicator of numerous visits to the hellhole, mostly for disturbances related to drugs.

Cowie was known to police before he moved to Gougeon Street. They became reacquainted after police answered a complaint that a couple was living in a shed at that address.

Dear says the couple was paying Cowie $200 a month.

Cowie was charged in January with two counts each of trafficking in crack cocaine, possession of the proceeds of crime and breaching possession. He is also charged with possession of crack cocaine.

Dear, who operates an auto-repair shop on Industrial Avenue, says despite his fear of being pricked, he mustered enough nerve to collect the syringes he could see. He found about 20 to add to the full box that Cowie left behind.

He tried to get a rubbish hauler to remove the junk. Dear says he made it clear the apartment had been a crack house and that he had already found numerous needles. The hauler turned down the job after he lifted a couch cushion and found four more dirty syringes. Dear says he was told: " 'I'm sorry. I'm not putting my men through this.' "

Dear can't blame him. "The junk is one issue," says Dear. But he needs help from City Hall or the province because "there is also a health issue" that they helped create.

Says Steinbachs: "We want to deal with this as quickly as possible."

Public health hopes to be able to tell Dear on Monday when the needle removal will start. Steinbachs says the city picked up almost 100,000 more needles in 2010 than it distributed. The needle-exchange program handed out 554,000 needles, but collected 653,430.

Cowie was ordered by the Landlord and Tenant Board to vacate by March 9, but didn't. He was removed by a court bailiff with the help of police. Police were called to the apartment, says Dear, after Cowie swung at the bailiff with his cane.

Cowie had 72 hours to remove his belongings after he was finally evicted, but never did so. Dear checked out the apartment after he returned last weekend from a holiday in Cuba. "It blew me away," says Dear of the squalor.

Furniture, clothing, boxes and bulging garbage bags were strewn about. The mattress on the floor in the main bedroom was covered with junk. It looked like Cowie had been hoarding, says Dear. Like the rest of the apartment, the kitchen was filthy. More junk and trash spilled from the kitchen table. Just imagine what he found in the bathroom, says Dear.

The floors throughout the unit were littered with syringes, cigarette butts, marijuana roaches and unopened condom packets.

Cowie's acquaintances included prostitutes and other druggies. The second bedroom may have been the main drug den. That's where Dear found a bagful of disposable lighters and a large hand-written note on the wall that ironically told users: "Respect -If you use this room please pick and throw your garbage out!"

Says Dear: "A real horror-show nightmare. I don't know what to think."

He says the nightmare will be expensive. He says having the junk removed and carrying out repairs to the unit will cost him as much as $8,000. He says insurance will pay for repairs, including a damaged door that was smashed in by police during one of their many visits. But insurance will not cover work such as repainting the apartment or refinishing the wood floors. There is also lost rent.

But worst of all is the stress from feeling so helpless and unprotected by government. "I thought I was an asset (as a taxpayer and a landlord)," says Dear. "But I had no help. He gets all the help." Besides his ODSP benefits, Cowie received legal help to fight Dear's eviction applications. He left Dear a cocky phone message last fall after speaking to his legal-aid lawyer: "I'll sue your ass and then I'll own your building."

The Landlord and Tenant Board says Dear has few options to try to recover costs. He could try taking Cowie to small-claims court or sending a collection agency after him.

Just another example, says Dear, of government helping its taxpaying citizens.

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