Complaining that he has lived for two years in the Regent Hotel without heat or hot water, with rats running in the hallways, an unsafe fire escape and a broken elevator, Jack Gates has had enough.
In a letter to the City of Vancouver and to the family that owns the dilapidated old hotel on East Hastings Street, Mr. Gates's lawyer has served notice that unless repairs are made within 60 days, he will apply for a court order that would allow the residents to get the necessary work done by contractors. If granted, the application would force the owners to deposit sufficient funds with the court to cover the cost of all repairs.
"It's just not right," Mr. Gates said on Monday about the state of the Regent, a single-room-occupancy (SRO) hotel in the heart of the impoverished Downtown Eastside.
The building's crumbling façade is hidden behind construction cladding, but although the giant blue tarps wrapping the front of the building have been in place for a year, Mr. Gates said there has not been any substantive repair work done behind them. There did not appear to be any repair crews on site on Monday and a hand-scrawled sign on the front door gave a hint of the general state of disrepair.
"Warning Watch For Falling Debri [sic]," it stated.
In a civil claim filed in the Supreme Court of British Columbia last month, Mr. Gates complained about a chronic lack of heat, a leaking roof, an impassable fire escape and other faults that raise "serious health and safety issues" for the residents.
The civil claim describes the façade as "crumbling and disintegrating" and says bricks are falling onto the sidewalk below.
"The conditions at the Regent put the health and safety of the tenants at risk," it states.
Mr. Gates said that in the two years he has been living at the Regent Hotel, he has not seen any serious effort made to deal with the building's many repair problems.
In the claim, which names Parkash Sahota and several other members of the Sahota family as the owners, Mr. Gates sought an injunction to require the City of Vancouver "to carry out work to remediate the health and safety issues at the Regent at the expense of the Sahotas."
But in a recently filed response, the City of Vancouver disputes the claim, stating that it is adequately overseeing the building.
"Since September, 2014, the City has responded to a number of complaints regarding issues at the Regent," the city's legal response says. "At all material times the City has enforced the Standards of Maintenance Bylaw and all other applicable City bylaws in an appropriate manner."
The city also states that it "is not aware of any imminent life safety issues at the Regent."
In an e-mail, Jag Sandhu, a spokesman for city hall, said SRO buildings in the Downtown Eastside are frequently inspected and when necessary orders are issued for repairs.
"The City of Vancouver always puts the health and safety of the tenants as top priority, and we have been doing everything in our power to ensure SRO owners are keeping these buildings in good standings. We do not ignore health and safety issues," he wrote.
Mr. Sandhu also said the Regent Hotel's elevator was working the last time the city inspected it, the fire escape was "not imminently unsafe … and the water temperature was at acceptable standards."
Members of the Sahota family named in the claim could not be reached for comment and the lawyer representing them and their companies did not respond to calls.
Jason Gratl, Mr. Gates's lawyer, said the city's response to the civil claim shows that it is failing to order repairs to the Regent Hotel. Because of that, he said, residents in the 158-unit building have decided that they must seek the authority to take charge of the repairs themselves.
"The tenants are now forced to take matters into their own hands by appealing to the court as a last resort to ensure that their building is fit for human habitation," said Mr. Gratl, a Vancouver lawyer who often takes on social justice issues.
"We have demanded that the work necessary to bring the building to the point of being fit for human habitation be completed within 60 days, failing which we will apply to the court for an injunction requiring the work to be done, requiring the Sahotas to pay sufficient funding to court to pay for the work to be done and giving the plaintiff and the plaintiff's project manager the right to take control of the repairs," he said.