City taking legal action against derelict SRO hotels
City staff are hoping to use legal injunctions in a last-ditch effort to force two landlords to bring derelict low-income housing in Vancouver's Downtown Eastside up to code.
Mayor Gregor Roberston said while the majority of landlords of single-residence occupancy buildings – or SROs – are responsible, some buildings aren't complying with bylaws, making them very unsafe or even dangerous for people to live in.
Robertson said the injunctions would protect the affordable housing in SRO buildings because it will require the buildings to be brought into compliance without shutting them down – and putting its already vulnerable occupants onto the streets.
The first buildings to be served with injunctions collectively provide 71 low-cost single-room suites: the three-storey Palace Hotel, situated above Funky Winker Bean's Pub at 35 West Hastings St., and the four-storey Wonder Rooms at 50-52 East Cordova St.
Inspectors report numerous safety and building violations at each property dating back several years, including massive pest infestations, broken ladders, blocked fire exits, missing smoke alarms and roof leakages.
The city says the owner of the Palace Hotel, built in 1906, has only done "minimal repairs" since being hit with more than 20 bylaw compliance orders in April 2010.
Then, inspectors reported missing and disconnected smoke alarms, broken windows throughout the building, as well as damaged flooring, leaky taps and water damage in almost every suite.
Even worse, many tenants also complained that their suites were infested with bedbugs.
By April 2011, city staff said little had been done to bring the building up to code and there were concerns "the building was in such a state of disrepair that it was potentially unsafe."
The Wonder Rooms did not fare much better during its inspections last year, and was hit with 24 compliance orders.
Water was found dripping from second-floor bathrooms into units on the first floor and light fixtures and faucets were out of order in many other suites.
Inspectors found evidence of bedbugs, roaches and rats in many residential suites. In a 2010 inspection report, one staff member wrote: "The entire basement and first floor are littered with rat feces and smell very strongly of rat urine."
According to city documents, neither building owner did much to fix any of the problems, although one did install new smoke alarms.
The policy to use legal injunctions to fix SRO buildings was approved by council in March 2009, though it has yet to be used.
Robertson said the injunctions are the final step the city can take against landlords who refuse repeatedly to respond to the issues raised by city inspectors.
Vancouver City Council will vote on two reports on June 16 as to whether to approve its use.
Robertson says the injunctions may be the only way poverty-stricken residents can be protected.
"Given the way these landlords have treated their tenants and refused to maintain their buildings, approving the use of legal injunctions is absolutely critical to helping the people who live there."
In the last two years, the city has cracked down on 28 SRO hotels with ongoing safety and health violations. About 100 other SRO hotels were found to be complaint with current bylaws.