Independent media needs you. Join the Tyee.

The Hook: Political news, freshly caught

Legal threats prompt 'quality' changes to SROs: City inspectors

VANCOUVER - City councillors congratulated themselves this afternoon at news that renovations to some of the Downtown Eastside's most notorious hotels were on track to meet or exceed maintenance standards -- but nonetheless authorized the use of legal injunctions against those buildings' owners if work was not completed.

The transformation of at least one property -- the Balmoral Hotel on East Hastings -- was so drastic that councillors and staff who had dealt with the property for years were amazed.

“Now people are worried it's going to get used for the Olympics because it's looking too good,” joked Vancouver's Chief Licence Inspector, Barb Windsor.

The changes were the result of a decision by Vancouver city council in March to back up orders under the city's Standards of Maintenance bylaw with threats of legal action.

Under that bylaw, in addition to collecting fines for infractions, the city has the power to commission repairs on a problem property and then bill the owner for the work done. However, that power was never used because of legal concerns that property owners could successfully challenge the bill in court if the city undertook anything more than the bare minimum, cheapest solution to the problem.

“It was an empty threat,” said Vancouver city councillor Tim Stevenson. “It was never carried out.”

Nonetheless, last December, council voted to pursue enforcement of the bylaw, and asked city staff to report on the best options to do so.

The report presented in March recommended that the city could use the power it has under the Vancouver Charter to apply for an order or injunction from the British Columbia Supreme Court to enforce a city bylaw. If property owners fail to comply with a court order, they could be subject to extensive fines or even imprisonment under contempt of court.

Three single room occupancy (SRO) hotels in the Downtown Eastside neighbourhood were singled out as test cases. Owners were warned in May that if the buildings were not brought up to code, a court injunction would be sought.

At the city's planning and environment meeting this afternoon, councillors considered proposals to formally authorize city staff to pursue those injunctions.

For one of the properties -- the Keefer Rooms on Keefer Street east of Main -- Windsor reported that all work had been completed and inspectors were “very satisfied.” As a result, no further action was taken.

At the other two buildings, work to address bylaw infractions was underway but not finished, councillors were told.

At the eight-story, 170-unit Balmoral, the outdated and frequently broken elevator is scheduled for a retrofit and work to improve the worn and damaged stairwells and hallways is “75 per cent completed,” according to Windsor. Furthermore, she said, the “quality of work is far above anything we've had before.”

At the Lucky Lodge on Powell Street, building permits have been issued for repairs to the plumbing system and work is expected to begin shortly.

No members or representatives of the Sahota family, who own the Balmoral, appeared at the meeting, but Mario Laudisio, owner of the Lucky Lodge, was represented by his lawyer, Ken Learn.

Learn argued that since “the threat of injunction proceedings has worked well and positively” it was “unnecessary” to go further. He urged councillors to “draw back from the brink” of an expensive court battle.

City councillors unanimously rejected that argument by voting in favour of the injunctions. However, city staff confirmed they will only initiate legal proceedings if work does not continue as planned.

The city's new approach to bylaw enforcement is not restricted to the Downtown Eastside. Earlier this month, council authorized city staff to pursue an injunction against the owners of an apartment building in East Vancouver that for years has had problems with a leaky, dilapidated roof.

At today's meeting, city councillors agreed to a request from the owner's lawyer to delay putting a formal warning on the building's property deed because it might impede the ability of the owner to refinance the property in order to pay for the repairs.

Councillor Stevenson confirmed after the meeting that the city would use the same process for other problem properties, but said he hoped actual court proceedings would not be necessary.

“I think the word will get out,” he said, “that we're not fooling around with these injunctions.”

Nonetheless, the tone in council chambers was more of amazement than of warning.

Stevenson himself said that councillors could “give ourselves a big pat on the back.” COPE Councillor Ellen Woodsworth said she “could barely believe what [Windsor was] saying about the Balmoral.”

And Councillor Andrea Reimer, who was chairing the meeting, concluded by saying that “as a former resident of the Balmoral, how pleased I am to cast my vote for the injunction, but more importantly, to hear that just the threat of it has had the intended effect of making it a habitable place for the people living there.”

Amelia Bellamy-Royds reports for The Tyee.

Find more in:

What have we missed? What do you think? We want to know. Comment below. Keep in mind:


  • Verify facts, debunk rumours
  • Add context and background
  • Spot typos and logical fallacies
  • Highlight reporting blind spots
  • Ignore trolls
  • Treat all with respect and curiosity
  • Connect with each other

Do not:

  • Use sexist, classist, racist or homophobic language
  • Libel or defame
  • Bully or troll
  • Troll patrol. Instead, flag suspect activity.
comments powered by Disqus