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Arrest warrants issued for notorious Downtown Eastside landlord

A notorious former owner of two Downtown Eastside single room occupancy hotels has been named in 10 arrest warrants for thousands of dollars still owed to tenants.

George Wolsey owes over $18,000 to residents who lived in the Wonder on East Cordova and the Palace on West Hastings in Vancouver.

It's the first time in B.C. history such warrants have been issued against a "bad landlord," according to Douglas King, staff lawyer at Pivot Legal, an advocacy law office that has represented the tenants.

The warrants come at the end of a five-year saga that has seen Wolsey accused of forcing tenants to purchase methadone exclusively at his Gastown Pharmacy (and evicting those who patronized competitors), and refusing to make necessary repairs at both hotels.

One activist described the conditions at the Wonder and the Palace in 2011:

"…disease bearing cockroaches eating people's scabs and sucking moisture from the corners of their eyes and mouths while they sleep; bed bugs and the risk of flesh-eating bacteria; the rat that burrowed into a mattress and died; water or heat shut off for protracted periods; one working shower for 25 people; blocked fire escapes; bogus room numbers and doubling up; social workers and building inspectors denied access; a blind woman trapped in this squalor; slumlords allegedly forcing tenants to buy stepped-on methadone; alleged threats and violence against tenants; and tenants afraid of being murdered with spiked methadone."

Tenants of Wolsey's hotels sometimes went weeks without a working shower in the building, reporters who attended a Pivot press conference yesterday were told.

The Tyee contacted Vancouver's license and inspections department for comment on Wolsey's record of defiance against orders for repairs at his hotels, but a spokesperson declined.

Several sources told The Tyee that Wolsey lost his license to practice as a pharmacist and dispense methadone as a result of complaints associated with Gastown Pharmacy. The College of Pharmacists said that Wolsey's membership in the college lapsed in 2010, meaning he was no longer eligible to work as a pharmacist in the province.

Wolsey has seven days to turn himself in and pay back his ex-tenants, Pivot's King said. After that, B.C. Sheriffs would be empowered to arrest the former landlord.

"This is a success story," King said. "But it shouldn't take five years and repeated visits to tribunals and court to settle a matter like this."

King said that Wolsey, who was forced by the ongoing controversy to sell his hotels, realized nearly $4 million for the two properties, "and he still won't pay out the $18,000 he owes his tenants."

Stephen Freeman, a former tenant at the Wonder, told reporters that he lived in Wolsey's hotel four months before he was evicted for not buying his methadone from the landlord's pharmacy.

"Wolsey is a heartless SOB," Freeman said. "I hope he spends time in jail. He deserves it."

Freeman, who worked the front desk at the hotel, said that he was ordered to refuse tenant requests for help or repairs when he worked for Wolsey.

Pivot lawyer DJ Larkin said that the case illustrates the need for serious reforms in B.C.'s management of landlord/tenant issues. She said a stronger Landlord Tenant Act should be passed, ending the existing system that provides incentives for landlords to let properties decay unrepaired, then evict tenants and re-rent or sell for more money.

She also said that city inspections of such hotels should happen more often. "We shouldn't let buildings literally fall down on residents," she said.

Changes in the act are needed, Larkin argued, to address the issue of landlord retaliation against tenants who complain.

Both Larkin and King emphasized their respect for the tenants of the hotels who had the courage to stand up to a landlord and complain.

"This isn't over," King said.

Tom Sandborn covers labour and health policy beats for the Tyee. He welcomes your feedback and story tips at

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