Mon. Nov 29th, 2021

The Balmoral and Regent Hotels in the Central Eastside, Vancouver, November 6, 2019.JONATHAN HAYWARD / The Canadian Press

The City of Vancouver is once again seeking an injunction to force the Sahota family to repair a derelict rental building with college-style units three years after an inspector first marked risks to their tenants.

The council’s unanimous vote on Wednesday against Sahotas – which the city paid millions for last year for two properties to be evacuated – highlights the difficulties the local government has had in regulating this aging private rental stock, which still houses thousands of Vancouver’s poorest residents.

Mayor Kennedy Stewart said his city needs to make sure these units are safe enough for residents, while pursuing funding from Ottawa as part of Vancouver’s $ 1 billion plan to buy up to 105 privately owned single-room (SRO) hotels. Mr. Stewart said the economic model for these buildings is broken, in part because they were built a century ago as short-term housing for lone lumberjacks or fishermen in small bedrooms with shared toilets down the hall.

He said his meeting last month with the provincial and federal housing ministers went well and that he raised Vancouver’s plan to buy and renovate or convert 2,500 of those rooms into independent social housing units. Mr. Stewart said he wrote a text message on Tuesday with Ahmed Hussen, the re-elected federal housing minister, and hopes the Liberal government’s national housing strategy will provide the money to buy these buildings.

“I want this to be fair to everyone involved, but I think it needs to happen quickly,” he said late Wednesday afternoon.

Until this funding is secured, he said, the city is stepping up its building ordinance to improve living conditions for tenants.

City staff will now seek an order in the BC Supreme Court forcing the family to deal with outstanding issues at the 110-year-old Regal Hotel. It would also put a notice on the property to warn that there are unresolved building permit violations on the property, which is located at the south end of Vancouver’s Granville Strip nightlife district. The building was last valued at $ 8.9 million and has long been owned by Sahotas, which a 2018 Globe survey found had property holdings – about 40 properties in and around Vancouver – worth an estimated $ 218 million at the time.

In 2018, a building inspector found that the top floor of the building had only one exit, and a year later, another inspector found that a lower floor was rotting badly.

A man who answered the cell phone to Pal Sahota, one of two brothers who run Sahotas’ real estate empire, declined to comment Wednesday afternoon.

Evan Cooke, the family’s lawyer, failed to persuade the municipality to postpone this legal challenge for four weeks – the time he said it would take to complete the remaining 10 percent of the work. Seeking an injunction would simply add cost and time to this process, he said.

Mr. Cooke told the council that the family was in disarray when the city ordered several repairs in June 2019. That summer, matriarch Parkash “Pash” Sahota, who was the manager of the company that owned Regal, had a leg amputated, then was placed in a nursing home. and died months later in January 2020. Then, he said, the pandemic made it difficult to hire contractors to solve the problems in the densely populated building.

Some city council members expressed skepticism about these arguments.

“I have been involved with these owners and their buildings for 30 or 40 years and they have a good reputation for ignoring requests for decent maintenance standards, so why should we think they will actually complete the work now, given their reputation and given that it has already been two years since they were asked to do this, and it has still not been done, ”asked Councilor Jean Swanson, a former anti-poverty activist, Mr. Cooke.

Wendy Pedersen, director of Downtown Eastside SRO Collaborative, which helps tenants push for improved living conditions, on Wednesday praised the city’s actions. But Ms. Pedersen, a longtime housing activist who has previously organized Sahota tenants, said almost all of the private landlords of this college-style housing do not maintain their units.

She added that the average rent in these college-style private units is $ 700 a month – eating up almost every dollar many tenants get from their monthly social assistance check in the province.

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