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Mover remove items from the Balmoral Hotel on the city-ordered eviction day in Downtown Eastside on Monday.

Rafal Gerszak/The Globe and Mail

As workers carried mattresses, televisions and boxes from the Balmoral Hotel to waiting moving vans, dozens of tenants waited in line in front of the hotel for compensation cheques from the owner of the building in Vancouver's Downtown Eastside.

But even as the line moved forward and word spread that the cheques were good – some tenants feared the compensation offer would fall through – there were worries over where people would wind up.

"Not yet," Candice Maclaurin said when asked if she knew where she would be going.

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Ms. Maclaurin, who was in the lineup in front of the hotel and said she'd lived in the Balmoral for about seven years, said she hoped outreach workers on site would be able to help.

Monday marked the deadline for tenants to leave the Balmoral Hotel after a June 2 order from the city, which said the building was unsafe to occupy and must be repaired to ensure it doesn't collapse.

The city says it and the province's housing ministry have found places for all of the registered tenants – about 140 people – who had been living in the hotel.

That order, which followed years of back-and-forth between the city and the hotel's private owners over maintenance and safety concerns, put a spotlight on dire conditions in some single-room occupancy (SRO) hotels, which serve as housing for many of the neighbourhood's poorest residents.

The situation has also raised questions about the city's effectiveness in dealing with problem landlords.

The Balmoral is owned by Vancouver's Sahota family, which runs several SRO hotels that have chronic maintenance issues.

In announcing the order to vacate the Balmoral, the city said it was "prepared to undertake the work and charge the costs to the owners if they do not comply."

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Housing and legal advocates, meanwhile, say the city could have done that years ago – under its standards and maintenance bylaw – but didn't, allowing building owners to let their buildings slide into disrepair.

The city prosecutor's office is considering up to 64 bylaw charges against the owners of the Balmoral, with a decision expected in the coming weeks.

Across Vancouver, there were $6,800 in penalties issued under the bylaw in 2014 and about $15,000 in 2015, city spokesman Jag Sandhu said.

A breakdown of those penalties was not immediately available. The Balmoral has an assessed property value of about $10-million.

Pal Sahota, who is on title as one of the owners of the Balmoral Hotel, was outside the building on Monday. He declined a reporter's request for comment.

The maximum fine under the bylaw is $10,000. The city says it has sought to increase that amount but says that would require provincial-government approval.

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The city is also under fire for allowing the Balmoral to deteriorate to the point that tenants have to be relocated.

"Cities need to work on how to actually engage and make the laws work before someone actually gets kicked out," Doug King of Pivot Legal Society said.

"This recent case we have now with the Balmoral is a perfect example of, if you come in at the end, it's going to be too late. You need to invest in the resources and bylaw enforcement from the beginning, so that landlords know they can't just ignore the law," he added.

The city says it has conducted regular inspections of the Balmoral, issued dozens of orders and, over the past six months, following up every week on the status of those orders.

Recent reviews turned up structural issues related to water damage, the city says. Before it ordered the building vacated, the city cut off access to bathtubs, out of fears the weight would be too much for weakened floors.

The province has bought and renovated 13 hotels in the Downtown Eastside that together provide about 900 housing units. Community groups say remaining privately held SROs – some with significant maintenance issues – are at risk of being demolished or redeveloped.

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When the city first announced its order, Jason Gratl, a lawyer representing clients in two proposed class-action suits against the Sahotas, said he would seek an injunction that would allow tenants to stay in the Balmoral, based on concerns that many of them would become homeless if forced to leave.

That strategy was shelved after the city said it had found homes for Balmoral tenants.

The two proposed class actions – launched last year by tenants of the Balmoral and Regent hotels – are still under way.

The Sahotas have challenged the court's jurisdiction to hear those suits, arguing through their lawyer that landlord-tenant disputes should be heard by the Residential Tenancy Branch.

The B.C. Court of Appeal heard arguments on that matter this month. A decision is pending.

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