Toronto Hydro treated a property owner unfairly after asking him to pay $20,000 to repair an electricity vault hidden underneath their parking lot, the city’s ombudsman found.

According to an investigation report released Friday by Toronto Ombudsman Kwame Addo, the complainant purchased a unit within a plaza in 1980 and was unaware there was a transformer on his property.

The transformer, the report said, was in an underground vault dug into the parking lot of his unit.

In 2015, Toronto Hydro informed him that the vault was in need of repairs, at a cost of about $20,000. Addo noted this amount was about half of the property owner’s annual salary.

“There were no signs, written agreements or easements that would have alerted (the owner) to the existence of this vault before he purchased the property,” the report found.

“No one told (the owner) that by purchasing the property, he also assumed ownership of the underground vault that housed the transfer and that responsibility for maintaining the volt itself.”

vault parking lot

The property owner, identified as Mr. A in the report, brought his concerns to the Ontario Energy Board for further review, who sided with Toronto Hydro. In August 2022 he filed a complaint with the city ombudsman.

Addo noted that Toronto Hydro challenged his office’s jurisdiction and a number of roadblocks hindered his review.

Toronto Hydro argued that Mr. A or his legal representative should have done their due diligence when the property was purchased. However Addo suggests “no amount of due diligence by Mr. A or his representative would have alleviated his situation.”

The ombudsman’s office is recommending that Toronto Hydro cover the cost of maintaining and repairing the vault on Mr. A’s property. While the electricity distribution company said it will pay the $20,000 repair costs, they have not committed to paying future costs.

Instead they say they will review repair and maintenance costs as they occur.

According to the report, Toronto Hydro expressed concern that if they made an exception for Mr. A, it would become “a very difficult proposition and a slippery slope” for other customers.

However, Toronto Hydro also acknowledged that Mr. A is the only customer among a tally of over 790,000 that is responsible for providing electricity to other customers.

Addo is also recommending that Toronto Hydro establish a “clearly defined process for customer-owned infrastructure” provide notice to customers of their ownership responsibilities, and review its inspection practices.