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Survivors of Winters Hotel fire sue building's owner, operator and the City of Vancouver


Survivors of a fatal fire that destroyed a Vancouver single-room occupancy building are suing the owner, the property management company, and the city – alleging a failure of all three to ensure the safety of vulnerable residents.

A Notice of Civil Claim was filed in B.C. Supreme Court Tuesday, exactly one year after a fire tore through the Winters Hotel in Gastown.

"Eighty Vancouverites were residents of the Winters Hotel at the time of the fire. Many of the residents were registered tenants, and others were their guests," the claim says.

"Two residents were killed in the fire. Many more were injured. Some residents lost loved pets. Many more lost all of their worldly belongings, including keepsakes from deceased friends and family, ID cards, other important documents, clothing, and work tools. All residents lost their homes and the community they had established in the Winters Hotel."

Court documents allege that Winters Residence Ltd., Atira Property Management Inc. and the City of Vancouver were negligent and breached a duty of care to the people who lived in, visited and worked at the building. None of the claims have been tested in court and no response has been filed by the defendants, who have all declined to comment.

In the aftermath of the fire, officials confirmed that crews had been called to a small fire in one of the rooms days before the devastating blaze, and that the building's sprinkler system was turned off as a result. The lawsuit alleges that an absence of other fire safety measures was noted at that time.

"No one took steps to reset the sprinkler or fire alarm systems, or replace fire extinguishers before the fire occurred three days later. The residents had no warnings about the fire, and no means to fight it," the claim says.

"Because there were no fire alarms, some residents and staff took it upon themselves to warn other occupants of the building. They ran through the halls, knocking on doors and yelling warnings. Many residents were saved by these actions, but some were not warned in time," it continues.

The building, which was more than a century old, was deemed to be damaged beyond repair. Demolition was halted 12 days after the fire when crews discovered a body. Several hours later, a second person's remains were found. The tragic discovery raised questions about earlier statements from the housing provider that everyone who lived there was accounted for after the initial evacuation.

The deceased were identified—first by family and community members and later by officials—as Mary-Ann Garlow, 68, and Dennis Guay, 53.


The claim, filed by former tenant Jennifer Hansma, seeks to be certified as a class action. The court documents describe her experience in harrowing detail.

Hansma was, according to the claim, asleep when the fire started and woken by a neighbour knocking on her door and yelling "Fire!" She lived in her unit with a pet cat, which the claim describes as "her best friend."

The cat, the court documents note, did not survive the fire in spite of Hansma's attempts to find her pet, whose cries she could hear in the moments before she fled.

"She opened the window to give her cat a chance to save himself, grabbed her keys, and opened the door. The hallway was filled with black smoke and fire. Ms. Hansma couldn't see anything else and she couldn't breathe. She ran down the hall with other residents and followed one, with her hand on their back, down the stairs to the front exit," the claim says.

"Ms. Hansma ran down the street in her pajamas and socks. She was covered in soot. Her fingertips were burned from touching the door handle."


Broadly, the claim alleges that there was a failure to properly maintain the building, and its fire safety systems created conditions in which it was "reasonably foreseeable" that a fire could cause harm to residents.

"In the years leading up to the fire, SROs operated by the Atira Defendants, including the Winters Hotel, had received a disproportionately large number of warnings and tickets for fire safety violations. They had also experienced a disproportionate number of fires," the court documents say.

"The city considered the Winters Hotel to be among the highest risk buildings in Vancouver because there was a high likelihood of fire and a high likelihood of catastrophic consequences."

The claim also says that the defendants "did not consider the residents to have political, economic, or social power" and so "did not enforce fire safety regulations to the same standards (as) in buildings with more politically, economically, and socially powerful residents."

The harm alleged to have stemmed from the defendants negligence includes "loss of life; personal injury; loss of use and enjoyment of property, including their homes; and loss of cherished property, including irreplaceable property with noneconomic value greatly in excess of the economic value of similar property."

The lawsuit seeks general, punitive, and aggravated damages as well as compensation for loss of income, and health-care costs. The amount of damages sought is not specified. Top Stories

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