Advocates for tenants of a large apartment block in Vancouver are angry the city is asking them to pay hundreds of dollars in fees to obtain inspection reports on bylaw infractions over more than two decades at the property, which is owned by a well-known problem landlord.
As Vancouver grapples with a shortage of affordable rental housing, renters and advocates have accused the city of not strictly enforcing a bylaw designed to ensure buildings are properly maintained and safe. Housing activists are particularly concerned with the city’s inability to force repairs at several dilapidated single-room hotels owned by the Sahota family.
While Sahotas’ single-room hotels in Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside have been the focus of much of that attention, the family also owns apartment buildings, including a three-storey complex made up of three buildings in Vancouver’s Mount Pleasant neighbourhood. The family bought the property four decades ago.
David Hendry, an organizer with the Vancouver Tenants Union, said he filed a freedom-of-information request in late February for the detailed history of infractions and inspections at the Mount Pleasant complex.
He was told he would have to pay $475 — about a quarter of his tiny non-profit’s annual budget.
Mr. Hendry said his group wanted the documents to help tenants in potential disputes with the landlord and to track whether the repairs were made.
Unbeknownst to him, the City of Vancouver released similar documents detailing the complex’s lengthy record of infractions a month earlier to The Globe and Mail for free as part of a freedom-of-information request.
“I don’t know what to make of that. I’d like to hear an explanation and I’d like the policy to be equally applied - we want that information,” he said. “It’s an outrageous policy. To me, it points to the city having policies that reflect property investors’ ability to pay and not tenant’s ability to pay.”
City spokesperson Ellie Lambert said in an e-mail that Mr. Hendry’s request was more broad, which is why it generated a fee. She said the city’s online database displays an apartment building’s overall number of current bylaw infractions and entries from the past year include enough information for renters to make decisions about where they want to live.
Mr. Hendry, who is advocating for about 60 of the 100 tenants at the Mount Pleasant property, said that is not good enough. He said the building’s tenants are worried about structural damage because some of their patio doors do not close properly.
The inspection reports obtained by The Globe identified leaking in hallways and a broken elevator in recent years. Complaints also referred to cockroaches, mice, mould and leaks. In 2007, one unit’s patio collapsed, which prompted the city to order the owners to apply for a building permit to do the repairs and complete an engineer’s report to prove there was no structural damage.
The rental standards database shows only two outstanding infractions, but Ms. Lambert said the city was unaware that tenants are again reporting a broken elevator and has sent an inspector.
Conditions at that apartment complex were substandard when Globe reporters visited in November and found feces and toilet paper leaking from a broken pipe in the basement parkade. Tenants said the elevator had been out of service for months.
When reached by phone on Tuesday, Pal Sahota, one of three siblings in charge of the company that runs the building, declined to comment.
Wendy Pedersen, a member of the Vancouver Tenants Union and long-time housing activist in the Downtown Eastside working with the SRO Collaborative, said getting infraction histories is hit or miss and the 30 days it takes for a freedom-of-information request is often too long for tenants facing immediate eviction.
With research from Stephanie Chambers in Toronto