Elevator reliability has been in the news for the past year or so. Stories have been published concerning buildings with some or even all elevators non-operational resulting in angry tenants having to climb many floors of stairs. Once the media spotlight is shone on any one situation, it typically becomes a narrative of the building owner blaming the service contractor’s greed or ineffectiveness, and the service contractor blaming the building owner for not spending the required money to upgrade the system.

This recent media attention has triggered both a report commissioned from Ontario’s regulator (Technical Standards and Safety Authority – TSSA), as well as a proposed private member’s bill sponsored by Liberal MPP Han Dong called the Reliable Elevators Act.

The TSSA-sponsored study found that there were too many instances of elevators being left inoperative. The private member’s bill, now in second reading, requires that elevators in residential applications be restored to service within fourteen days.  It also requires traffic studies for new building developments of seven or more stories to ensure that new buildings are equipped with a sufficient number of elevators. You might be surprised to learn that no such code requirement currently exists; generally, the issue is left to the building developer’s good judgment and buyer-beware in the case of condominiums.

In our view, although the legislation has a noble goal, it does not have the fundamental criterion required of good legislation: enforceability. Regarding the goal of an elevator traffic study for new buildings, there is no one agreement amongst professionals engaged in this activity as to what constitutes acceptable elevator service. Even the parameters that are used as inputs to a computer model vary significantly amongst experts doing this analysis. Furthermore, an elevator traffic model that is accurate for a given building usage will be of little value when the building usage changes.

All parties agree that elevators should be made operational as soon as possible, and that elevators in residential buildings, particularly with mobility-impaired persons, are important. However, this does not solve the problem of unavailable parts or wiring diagrams for equipment that in many cases has not been manufactured for decades. The preference of large elevator manufacturers to install and retrofit using their own internal brands of microprocessor-based equipment exacerbates the problem of ease of repair. We have seen an alarming move towards machine-room-less elevators with miniaturized components which further inhibit repairs and maintenance.

All things considered, our opinion is that the legislation would not benefit anyone in its current form, as it would appear to raise more questions than it answers. Just like a law requiring “good parenting”, it is noble and important, but largely unenforceable.

So, if not legislation, what is the solution to reliable elevator service? An owner’s diligence in keeping tabs on the operation of their asset will continue to be the most effective approach including the rising utilization of third-party experts such as elevator consultants. Moving forward, we are already seeing building owners becoming more aggressive in enforcing contractual rights when an elevator contractor does not fulfill their obligations. The engagement of specialists can assist in understanding the hazards of modern elevator ownership and provide impartial information to make informed decisions.