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The Balmoral and Regent hotels are pictured in the Downtown Eastside in Vancouver, B.C., Nov. 6, 2019.

JONATHAN HAYWARD/The Canadian Press

The City of Vancouver tried to buy all five of the Sahota family’s dorm-style apartment buildings before its protracted expropriation of their Regent and Balmoral hotels, according to a lawsuit from the barkeeper at one of those Downtown Eastside properties.

In June, 2018, the same month the city condemned the Regent Hotel and moved out its 100 or so low-income tenants, the Sahotas had a meeting at City Hall where staff outlined Vancouver’s “intention to purchase the Regent Hotel and four other downtown hotel properties also owned by the Sahota family.” That information is contained in a civil notice of claim filed Tuesday in B.C. Supreme Court by Darrel Dunlop, which also alleges that weeks later, on July, 6, 2018, the city offered the Sahotas $3-million for the Regent.

After the family failed to respond to the offer, city council voted to begin the unprecedented expropriation of the two hotels, which once housed more than 300 low-income tenants, after decades of routinely violating city bylaws related to pests, plumbing and fire safety and becoming synonymous with the poor living conditions on the Downtown Eastside. Mr. Dunlop ran a bar he leased on the ground floor of the Regent and was a party to the expropriation until the city and the Sahotas began separate negotiations this fall and froze him out, according to allegations in the claim.

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The new lawsuit claims the Sahotas sent the city details of 10 bids for the twin hotels last summer that ranged from $14-million to $25-million.

The Globe and Mail reported earlier this month that the city spent more than $7.5-million for the Balmoral and Regent hotels, which was the amount city staff had estimated they would cost two years ago.

There had been a public outcry over the city agreeing to keep the value of this deal secret at the insistence of the reclusive Sahota family, which a 2018 Globe investigation found had real estate holdings – about 40 properties in and around Vancouver – worth an estimated $218-million.

Searches of property records show the Sahotas still own their three other run-down rental hotels – the Astoria, the Regal and the Cobalt.

The City of Vancouver refused to comment on its previous push to buy all these properties, other than issuing a statement Tuesday saying that to increase access to housing in the Downtown Eastside, the city “continues to explore ways to increase the number of these [shelter-rate] units across the neighbourhood.”

None of the allegations in the notice of claim have been proven in court and Sahota lawyer Evan Cooke said this week that the family had no comment on the matter.

Mr. Dunlop is suing the Sahotas and the City of Vancouver for at least $845,000 of income he says he has lost on his three-year lease renewal of the bar, which was set to end next summer before the property changed ownership.

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“The Regent Hotel Bar was ordered closed with limited and inadequate opportunity for the plaintiff to remove the plaintiff’s chattels, stores, supplies, and liquor on hand,” the document also states.

The city said, in a statement e-mailed Monday, the family – not the city – is responsible for any money the barkeeper is suing to recover.

“Mr. Dunlop’s alleged losses were, in the City’s view, caused by the Sahota’s failure to maintain their building, not the expropriation,” the city’s statement said.

Wendy Pedersen, a long-time housing activist who has organized Sahota tenants in the past, said she is happy the city has finally expropriated these two buildings – even if it let problems persist inside these rundown rentals for decades.

“This is the last tool in the toolbox to use,” she said.

With research from Rick Cash and Stephanie Chambers

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