VANCOUVER Mayor Gregor Robertson on Thursday slammed the Sahota family for their neglect of Balmoral Hotel in Downtown Eastside.
Robertson said in a statement: “The living conditions in the Balmoral Hotel, a single-room occupancy hotel owned by the Sahota family, are disgusting – no resident of Vancouver should have to live in housing like that. The repeated building and safety violations are putting some of our most vulnerable residents at risk and are a massive strain on City resources.
“Since November, the City has referred more than 150 issues at the Balmoral to prosecution. However, we’ve seen in the past that these prosecutions don’t always get landlords to change their behaviour. We have also required them to make over a $1M in structural repairs to the first floor bar and building envelope and to hire professional engineers to conduct a full assessment of the building. Our staff are looking at every possible legal and regulatory tool we have available to force the Sahota family to improve the Balmoral and hold them accountable for ignoring City by-laws. We are also looking at what tools a new provincial government could provide us to ensure low-income housing is protected and negligent landlords are held responsible for letting their buildings fall into disrepair.”
EARLIER this week, the City of Vancouver said in a statement that as it continues to identify and investigate structural maintenance and building code issues in Single Room Accommodation (SRO) buildings in the Downtown Eastside (DTES), of particular concern is the Balmoral Hotel, located at 159 East Hastings Street. Currently, there are approximately 143 tenants in the 171-room privately-run SRO that was built in 1908.
The City said it has proactively been visiting the building and conducting regular Standards of Maintenance inspections of common areas and tenant rooms in the Balmoral, including communicating regularly with the Sahota family, who own this and other SROs in the DTES. Orders were issued on November 7, 2016, February 23, 2017, and April 6, 2017, to carry out a variety of repairs, including damaged drywall, plumbing and electrical fixtures and room doors and locks. Since mid-December 2016, the City has been there every week following up on the status of the orders. Ninety-eight of the 114 items from the November 2016 orders are outstanding and have been referred to prosecution, and 42 of the 64 items from the February 2017 orders are outstanding and have been reviewed for prosecution. Follow-up on the April 2017 orders continues, as the window of time allowed for the owners to correct the orders remains open.
The February 23, 2017 orders were issued under the Vancouver Building Bylaw to carry out exploratory work and structural reviews. A permit was taken out and the exploratory work commenced. Preliminary findings indicated that damage had the potential to be significant. Based on the ongoing observations of worsening conditions, in April the City proactively required the owners of the Balmoral to hire an external professional engineering firm to conduct a full review of the building envelope.
Structural issues were identified in the bar portion in June 2016 and major structural repair has been underway since that time. Work is underway by the engineering firm and contractor, an approximately $1-million project, mostly focused on external building improvements. The most recent review received May 26, 2017, has revealed internal structural issues related to water damage.
Due to the City’s and consultants concerns about the safety of the building’s tenants, on Friday, May 26, the City restricted access to bathtubs (to reduce weight on deteriorated floors until further assessment could be completed) and notified tenants accordingly. Tenants continued to have access to sinks, showers and toilets and were provided alternate bathing options in nearby community facilities.
On Monday, May 29, City staff and the contracted professional engineering firm, project manager and contractors visited the building and reviewed the evidence collected. Further detailed assessment is required to identify all damage and to advance repairs, however, significant safety concerns have been raised that must be addressed. To satisfy the City’s concerns given the outcomes of the structural review, City staff are in the process of hiring external professionals to provide an independent review of the building’s structural status and code compliance. All expenses related to engaging these additional resources will be the responsibility of the building owners.
Vancouver Fire and Rescue Services (VFRS) issued a fire watch on May 12 after there was a fire on the sixth floor until the sprinkler system could be placed back into proper order. On May 18, VFRS returned to re-inspect and ordered another fire watch when it was discovered that the standpipe was not functioning properly and no water could be turned on to the house hose lines. This was followed by a visit on May 26 where a third fire watch by way of a Fire Chief’s Order was issued. This order was due to the number of holes that are currently in the fire separations.
VFRS are in the building on a regular basis, major life safety systems are showing to be operational; however, the fire watch that was ordered, due to the holes in fire separations, has not been properly maintained, which will be enforced immediately and regularly monitored by VFRS for compliance.
To satisfy the City’s concerns given the outcomes of the structural review, City staff are in the process of hiring external professionals to provide an independent review of the building’s structural status and code compliance. All expenses related to engaging these additional resources will be the responsibility of the building owners. When the City has the complete assessment of the fire and structural systems in the building, repairs will be ordered, which may require partial or full relocation of tenants.
City staff will meet with the building owners to discuss next steps in meeting their responsibilities under the Residential Tenancy Act and to provide alternate accommodation should it become necessary. City staff will continue to update tenants as information becomes available, and also to support tenants as necessary and ensure the Sahota family is held accountable.