Fourteen months after it was partially razed by fire, an historic Shaughnessy mansion is still exposed to the elements, and decaying more every day.

Known as the Rounsefell House, the Angus Drive property is stuck in a legal limbo, even as heritage advocates wish the owner, Chinese businessman Miao Fei Pan, hadn’t left it vacant to begin with.

“There aren’t too many things that set my teeth on edge, but I can’t go past that one, it makes me mad,” said heritage consultant John Atkin.

“Any structure that is left unprotected is vulnerable. That’s why you want to have buildings occupied. A house needs to be lived in, and if it’s not, it’s a sitting duck,” he said.

At least 26 empty homes have been burned since 2016 according to city figures. Some fires were construction-related, others possible squatters, and others possible arsons.

The residence was built in 1911 in the initial development of Shaughnessy and remains one of the earliest remaining houses in the early Vancouver suburb, occupied first by Francis William Rounsefell, a director at the Vancouver Milling & Grain Co.

It’s not clear who set the fire that ravaged the building in October of 2017. An inspection report after the blaze said “most of the roof system has collapsed or destroyed by the fire…the upper, main floor joists, stairs and roof system completely destroyed.”

Court documents say Pan and his wife Wen Huan Yang purchased the home in 2012. Pan, who was photographed with Justin Trudeau during a fundraiser at another home, had the intention to move there with his family after a renovation, he wrote in an affidavit. He never did, the documents say, living with his family at another Vancouver address.

After the fire, his insurance company had started to co-ordinate repairs. But by January 2018, Pan was told “my loss was not being insured because the property was vacant without notice to the insurer and the alarm system was not connected for a period of time.”

The estimated cost of demolition and architectural work, according to a tally of contracts in the court documents, is higher than $688,000.

The city ordered Pan to protect what was left of the home by February 2018 – a tall order, according to his contractors, who explored various ways of protecting the mansion but couldn’t make it work, the documents say.

“Despite assurances from the owners, their agents and contractors, that the work would be completed, and after two extensions, the owners failed to comply with the order and the building has been left open to the elements since the fire,” the city of Vancouver said in a statement.

On August 20, 2018, the city accused Pan and Yang of bylaw violations of “failing to repair and maintain” a heritage structure, and failing to comply with the order.

A few days later, on August 24, WorksafeBC issued a stop work order on the property, saying “the building at 3737 Angus Street, Vancouver, [has] sustained high to extreme fire damage, and as such, has been deemed an immediate danger to life and health.”

The main problem: four unstable 50-foot-tall masonry chimneys, which could fall and present danger to workers, the order says.

Since then, there have been protracted negotiations with the city of Vancouver about how to both restore the building, without accessing the property, Pan’s lawyer, Ryan Parsons, told CTV News.

“We’ve been actively meeting and corresponding with WorksafeBC to figure out how to address those concerns and move forward,” Parsons said.

In court filings, the owners said the only option is to demolish the house, and Parsons said he is considering applying for a demolition permit.

But the city is holding fast, continuing a petition in B.C. Supreme Court to force the owner to restore the property. A spokesperson told CTV News the city has retained a structural engineer and a heritage consultant to provide an opinion on whether that’s possible given the WorksafeBC order.

Atkin said he believes that it’s possible to save the structure.

“As soon as the fire was put out, as soon as it was assessed, immediately protection should have been put on the building,” he said. “It should have been done immediately. That would have stopped so many of the issues that we now have.”