Dan Zimmerman has papered his walls with decisions from B.C.'s Residential Tenancy Branch related to the more than 20 complaints he has filed for himself and fellow residents of the West Hotel, a rundown single-room occupancy hotel on Vancouver's Downtown Eastside.
But even though some of those complaints resulted in orders to the building's owner to make repairs, Mr. Zimmerman says they have not yet led to meaningful results.
"For all the [hearings] we have won – they haven't honoured one yet," Mr. Zimmerman said Thursday in his room.
"We have orders to repair, orders to reinstate tenancies – there were a lot of illegal evictions – and [the owners] just don't reply. It's a slow, patient path to go through the legal process, but I believe in it."
In his latest step on that path, Mr. Zimmerman on Thursday filed a complaint on behalf of himself and about 90 other hotel tenants seeking a total of roughly $70,000 in compensation for alleged violations of the B.C.'s Residential Tenancy Act, including weeks without elevator service or hot water in the hotel, a seven-storey brick building at 488 Carrall St.
The complaint, which the residents' group says is scheduled for a hearing in October, highlights long-running concerns related to the city's single-room occupancy hotels, or SROs. For decades, the city has faced complaints about decrepit conditions at SROs.
At the same time, the city – as well as the provincial government – has recognized the buildings provide housing of last resort for people who are poor and, frequently, struggling with addiction or mental-health issues. And as property values have risen in the Downtown Eastside, the pool of SRO rooms available for rent at welfare rates has shrunk.
The city has been tracking the issue since at least 1997, when – in response to concerns about the loss of stock to conversions to hostels and commercial hotels – it sought authority from the province to regulate single-room accommodation. Then, in 2003, council enacted a bylaw to regulate the conversion and demolition of SRO hotels.
Last month, the city revised that bylaw and hiked the fee that owners must pay to take a room out of the SRO pool from $15,000 to $125,000.
Like many privately owned SRO hotels, the West is a decades-old building with maintenance issues.
A database of rental properties lists the hotel as having 99 completed issues and 45 that are still outstanding as of March, including fire bylaw concern such as "excessive amount of stored combustibles in and around building" and 36 "work required" notices under the standards of maintenance bylaw.
The standard-of-maintenance bylaw sets standards for rental accommodation in the city and covers matters such as heat and hot water, pest infestations and tripping hazards on stairs.
For about the past six months, the West Hotel has been managed by Community Builders Group, a non-profit group that runs several SROs in the Downtown Eastside.
Community Builders spokeswoman Julie Roberts said many of the issues raised by tenants in their complaint have already been addressed.
The building needs upgrades but Community Builders is trying to do that work without forcing anyone to move out during construction, she added.
While the building owners are responsible for capital upgrades, Community Builders has put up about $90,000 for repairs and upgrades, Ms. Roberts said.
"The compensation that the tenants are claiming from the owners is for things that for the large part, [have] already been resolved," she said.
"We are making as many improvements as possible without evicting everybody from top to bottom," Ms. Roberts said.
Several tenants at Tuesday's press conference said they were concerned that the building could be sold or renovated and rents increased beyond their reach.
The July city report on SROs noted that in recent years, 17 buildings – comprising 589 rooms or 8 per cent of the stock – had been acquired by investor owners, who then focus on upgrading the rooms without triggering the need for an SRO conversion or demolition permit.
Since January, 2012, the Residential Tenancy Branch has completed 80 dispute resolution proceedings for 488 Carrall St,, the province said Thursday. Tenants brought 63 of the cases and won 26 of them. During the same period, there were 17 landlord applications, with four going in favour of the landlord.
The province has purchased 23 SRO hotels to retain them as low-income housing. Of those, 13 are to be renovated through a $143.3-million public-private partnership. To date, five have been completed.