Vancouver city council votes in favour of seeking injunction against Downtown Eastside building owners
Vancouver city council voted unanimously in favour today (June 30) of seeking an injunction against the owners of two single-room occupancy hotels in order to force repairs of the Downtown Eastside properties.
The move, which was called a “significant milestone” by Vision Vancouver councillor Tim Stevenson, followed presentations to council by several tenants of the Wonder Rooms and Palace Hotel.
In an unusual measure, some residents spoke from the balcony in the city council chambers in order to protect their anonymity.
Speakers described living conditions in the hotels they say include rat and cockroach infestations, bedbugs and mold.
One tenant of the Palace Hotel broke into tears as she told city councillors she was scared of getting evicted after speaking out.
The woman said her husband has been getting sick due to mold allergies.
"Have you guys ever lived with rats?" she said. "We've seen rats running around, climbing in our walls, chewing on our walls. It's not fair for nobody in this city."
Mayor Gregor Robertson and other city councillors thanked the speakers for their courage in sharing their concerns publicly.
“This has been brought forward by the community and I want to give a special thanks to those who were courageous enough to come forward when their living conditions, as bad as they are, might be taken away from them tonight,” said Robertson.
Deputy city manager Sadhu Johnston told city council that Vancouver police had been asked to have a presence at the hotels throughout the evening, given concerns from some tenants over potential retribution.
Tom Hammel, assistant director and deputy chief licence inspector with the City of Vancouver, said city inspectors did their latest inspection of the properties on June 22. He said that while some progress had been made since the last inspection, staff “didn’t feel that enough progress had been made to be worth withdrawing both reports”.
He noted that according to the fire department, the fire systems in both buildings are operational, but there are safety issues that are considered to be serious violations.
Hammel noted that inspection staff have encountered continuous challenges gaining access to the building, and that the owner’s response to violations has been slow or in some cases non-existent.
“There’s just been a large lack of compliance or cooperation with us in terms of access and doing the inspections,” he said.
While George Wosley's name was on the speaker's list, the co-owner of the Wonder and Palace hotels was not in attendance at Thursday’s committee meeting.
During the discussion on the injunction, councillors also referenced broader concerns around the state of SRO hotels in the city.
"I suspect if we were to look at all the hotels in the Downtown Eastside, there are a lot more hotels that are in disrepair," noted COPE councillor David Cadman.
Downtown Eastside resident Stephen Lytton hopes the discussion will prove to be the "beginning of many sessions" on the subject.
"I think it's appalling that we as a world-class city...that this situation continues to happen," he told council. "Dogs, cats, animals, live better than some of our human beings do."
Stevenson said he expects today’s move will “send a pretty strong signal” to owners of other buildings to ensure they comply with city bylaws.
“It’s a despicable situation...but out of this, it’s our hope and the mayor’s hope that a whole new dawn will arrive in dealing with these hotels,” he said.
Robertson said the city will not ignore building owners who allow conditions to fall below basic maintenance standards.
“We are going to go after these landlords to ensure that these conditions are met," he said.
Council also showed support for a tenant’s rights task force, recommended by Downtown Eastside Neighbourhood Council member Ivan Drury.
“The Wonder and Palace hotels present us with a unique opportunity to start a fight that should have been going on for a long time, and that should involve all three levels of government,” he told councillors.
“There is an opportunity here to do something, and to use the Wonder/Palace fight as a model of how to protect tenants’ rights and not only fix up buildings.”