The City of Vancouver has filed 60 charges against the owners of a dilapidated single-room occupancy hotel in the Downtown Eastside, alleging bylaw violations ranging from rotting walls and floors to faulty plumbing.
The charges against the owners of the Balmoral Hotel, filed under the city's Standards of Maintenance bylaw, follow an order from the city last month for the building to be vacated because it was unsafe to occupy.
If found guilty, the owners could face fines from $250 to a maximum of $10,000 for each infraction.
The problems at the Balmoral Hotel, a nine-storey building on East Hastings street, have focused scrutiny on the single-room occupancy hotels, or SROs, that house the city's poorest residents. Many of the privately owned SROs in the city have become notorious for squalid conditions.
In a statement Thursday, the city said it wants to protect SRO hotels such as the Balmoral and is committed to holding landlords accountable if they let buildings slide into disrepair.
Community advocates, however, question whether the charges will do much, if anything, to ensure that landlords do necessary repairs and criticized the city for taking too long to address serious problems at the building.
"I think a better action for the city would be to go in and do the work and bill the owner," said Jean Swanson, a spokeswoman for Carnegie Community Action Project, a community group that lobbies for affordable housing.
The city's Standards of Maintenance bylaw includes provisions that allow for work to be carried out by the city at the owner's expense, Ms. Swanson added.
"They should have done that years ago … we'd still have the place and it would be in decent shape," Ms. Swanson said.
The city has used that provision of the bylaw on at least one occasion in the past, Ms. Swanson said.
But it has not been used in at least the past two years.
In its statement Thursday, the city said the building has been stabilized since the order to vacate but that "we anticipate that a significant amount of work will be necessary to return the building to SRO housing stock."
According to corporate records, it is owned by Balmoral Hotel Ltd., which has two directors, Parkash Sahota and Pal Sahota. The Sahota family owns other SROs in the neighbourhood, including the Regent Hotel across the street.
A lawyer who has recently represented the Sahotas in court did not respond to a request for comment.
When contacted by The Globe and Mail, Gurdyal Sahota, another family member, said he did not know anything about the charges and hung up. Pal Sahota did not reply to a request for comment.
Sahota-owned buildings have generated headaches for city, police and fire departments for decades and are fixtures on the city's rental database, which tracks bylaw issues such as fire-safety and maintenance problems.
Problems at the Balmoral escalated in recent months. Structural issues were identified in the hotel's bar in June, 2016. Over the next few months, city inspectors visited regularly, issuing more orders for repair to damaged drywall, plumbing and room doors and locks.
In May, based on concerns about water damage to deteriorated floors, the city cut off access to bathtubs. On June 2, the city issued an order to vacate the building by June 12.
That order resulted in a scramble by the city, B.C. Housing and community activists to find new homes for about 143 people who had been living in the 171-room hotel, one of dozens of SROs in the city's Downtown Eastside that provide housing of last resort to low-income people in the neighbourhood.
The city imposed $2,000 in fines under its Standards of Maintenance bylaw in 2012, no fines in 2013, $6,800 in 2014 and $15,000 in 2015, spokesman Jag Sandhu said Thursday in an e-mail.
Figures for 2016 were not readily available because of software-management problems, he said.
Tenants of the Balmoral and the Regent last year filed class-action suits against the Sahotas. The city is named as a defendant in both suits.