Vancouver prosecutes owners of squalid Downtown Eastside hotels
Charges could translate to over a million in fines, but after years of neglect, tenant advocates are sceptical the buildings will improve.
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City of Vancouver staff say they have issued over 400 building deficiency orders against the owners of two of the city’s worst single-room occupancy hotels and have gone to court to try to recoup over a million dollars in fines.
“The conditions in the Regent (Hotel) are not acceptable for the people that are living there,” said Paul Mochrie, the deputy city manager.
“We hope the court agrees with us that that warrants some significant financial penalties.”
In June, the city ordered the nearly century-old Balmoral Hotel shut down over fears the building could collapse. The court prosecutions involve the Balmoral as well as the Regent Hotel, located on East Hastings in the heart of the Downtown Eastside. Both are owned by the Sahota family; the city has named them the “worst” SROs in Vancouver.
The city is prosecuting the Sahotas in court on 132 building and fire bylaw violations. Each violation carries a possible maximum fine of $10,000, meaning the Sahotas could have to pay $1.32 million in fines. Many of the violations have to do with fire safety.
Metro attempted to contact the Sahotas, but was unsuccessful.
But after decades of neglect, tenant advocates are sceptical the charges will result in meaningful change. People continue to live in the filth, violence and chaos, said Wendy Pedersen, a member of the SRO Collaborative.
“I’m worried the city won’t be there to follow it through to the end and be aggressive and have enough resources because they’re not working with community organizers to get the evidence they need,” Pedersen said.
An engineering review ordered by the city after the Balmoral was ordered to close showed that the Regent had similar structural problems, Mochrie said. The city ordered the Regent to be shored up and it is now considered safe for residents to occupy. Because the Balmoral remains unoccupied, the city now has no legal power to compel the Sahotas to complete repairs.
While the Sahotas have recently hired professional contractors to do work ordered by the city, those repairs are proceeding much too slowly for the city’s liking, Mochrie said.
“I’m worried their penalties may not be as high as it would cost to do the repairs,” Pedersen said. “I’m wondering if it might be easier for the Sahotas to pay penalties than to do the full repairs that are needed.”