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Landlords bicker as Vancouver building deteriorates

A man on a scooter drives past the Clifton Hotel on Granville Street in the heart of downtown Vancouver July 11, 2013. The city of Vancouver is applying to the Supreme Court to force the owners of this hotel to do a raft of repairs after eight months of inspections by city showed massive problems -- leaks, creative wiring, no water at times, possible structural problems. Council approved going to court for an injunction. This building currently at the top of the list of problem properties in the city.

Jeff Vinnick/The Globe and Mail

The Clifton was never a four-star accommodation, but the residential hotel at the gritty end of Granville Street used to be safe and clean.

Now, it is considered one of the worst rental properties in the city since the two partners who bought it three years ago for $4.5-million started arguing over how to maintain it.

It has holes in the walls, leaks from the pipes, bouts of no water at all for the tenants, mould, structural damage, broken toilets, melting electrical outlets and dozens of other problems.

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"I don't understand why the city allowed it to become this way," one of the Clifton's frustrated tenants, Shawn Thorpe, told Vancouver city councillors this week. "I've lived in some crappy places in the city, but this is excessive."

To Mr. Thorpe's disappointment, the city does not have the power to take the property away from Yahya Nickpour and Abolghasem Abdollahi.

But councillors did agree that staff should go to the B.C. Supreme Court for an injunction to demand the partners make the Clifton habitable again.

Councillors also berated the two building owners, who each appeared before them blaming the other for the problems.

"Shame on you, I say, for fighting about who owns what and fighting about money while those who are living in your building are at risk and are having a miserable life," said Councillor Kerry Jang. His colleague Tim Stevenson called the Clifton a "slum situation" that was unacceptable.

The move to get an injunction is the first time Vancouver has had to take such drastic action since it brought in a new system for tracking problem properties in February. That system, an online rental-standards database, allows anyone to view a building's record of bylaw infractions.

"The database has really motivated most owners," said Carli Edwards, the assistant director of inspections for the city. "Since we've had the database, this is the first one where we've had to go this far."

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Other owners notified of violations scramble to fix them to get off the list, Ms. Edwards said.

But the Clifton's owners could not seem to resolve their differences to do that.

Mr. Abdollahi, near tears at times, said he realized only last fall that his partner was not doing proper repairs.

"I am doing my best," he said repeatedly, begging for more time to get the repairs done.

Mr. Nickpour, in turn, said his partner had not come up with money for repairs, adding: "I do my 50 per cent to save this building."

The city typically has about 300 properties with violations at any given time, out of the 2,500 it tracks through the database.

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The Clifton is unusual because it has stayed at the top for months. Problems became evident last October, when a truck ran into the fire escape and damaged it. The owners did not fix it for months.

The city eventually hired staff to maintain a 24-hour fire watch in the building for the 73 days it took the owners to repair the escape. The cost was billed to the owners.

However, in the subsequent months, city inspectors documented another 61 violations, including a period when tenants had no water for six days in a row.

Ms. Edwards said injunctions in cases like this take up to a month for preparation and response from the landlords.

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About the Author
Urban affairs contributor

Frances Bula has written about urban issues and city politics in B.C.’s Vancouver region, covering everything from Downtown Eastside drug addiction to billion-dollar development projects, since 1994. More

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