Lawsuit launched against Downtown Eastside building owners

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      A group of tenants in a single-room occupancy hotel in the Downtown Eastside are filing a lawsuit against the owner of their building to seek compensation for what they call deplorable living conditions.

      Doug King, a lawyer with Pivot Legal Society, said the lawsuit was filed today (June 29) on behalf of at least 10 tenants in the Wonder Rooms hotel on East Cordova Street.

      The lawsuit comes as two staff reports are set to go before Vancouver city council Thursday, recommending that the city seek an injunction against the owner of the Wonder Rooms and the Palace Hotel in order to bring the Downtown Eastside SRO properties into compliance with Vancouver bylaws.

      King said SRO residents have been compensated in the past through the residential tenancy act for unreasonable living standards in their buildings.

      “The reality is I think for every SRO down here, the conditions are usually so bad that you can almost always ask for compensation, but in this case it’s different and we’re hoping to make an example, because we have that support from the city, and we can say to the residential tenancy branch, the conditions are so bad there that the government’s had to step in,” he told the Straight following a news conference on East Hastings Street.

      King said they will be asking for thousands of dollars in compensation for each individual involved in the lawsuit. He noted at least two tenants who claim they were illegally evicted will be seeking compensation.

      One resident was evicted Tuesday by being disallowed re-entry, according to Downtown Eastside Neighbourhood Council (DNC) board member Ivan Drury, who accompanied the man to the building to pick up his belongings.

      Wonder Rooms tenant Kirk Gerboth estimated that about three people have been evicted from the building in the last month.

      Gerboth, who has lived in the hotel for the last year and a half, said his room is infested with rats, cockroaches, and sometimes pigeons.

      “Rats ate all my clothes,” he said. “It’s pretty bad.”

      Gerboth said he has raised complaints with the owner, but that he typically “shrugs it off”.

      The Straight left a message for building co-owner George Wosley with staff at the Wonder Rooms hotel, but he could not be reached for comment before deadline.

      According to the reports set to go before council Thursday, city inspectors witnessed numerous bylaw violations at the Wonder Rooms and the Palace Hotel on West Hastings Street, including missing smoke alarms, damaged walls and ceilings, broken light fixtures and water faucets, and pest infestation in many of the units.

      DNC volunteer Richard Marquez, a former housing inspector in San Francisco, said when he had access to the building recently, he witnessed rat and cockroach infestations, broken windows, debris dumping, one functioning stove burner for the whole building, and “putrid” sinks.

      Marquez wants to see Vancouver adopt a community code enforcement program, similar to programs that exist in San Francisco and other cities, to stabilize living conditions in SROs.

      DNC president Paul Martin said he's glad to see the city preparing to take the step of an injunction, but his group also wants to see the building owners fined “to the full extent” and the tenants protected while repairs are underway. The group is also calling for the city to buy 10 new sites of social housing a year.

      Martin hopes the lawsuit will lead to further action against other SRO owners in the area.

      “This is only the first step,” he said.

      City council will discuss the two staff reports Thursday afternoon.