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Downtown Eastside residents and housing advocates challenge 'slumlords'

Outside of the Balmoral Hotel on Thursday morning, Downtown Eastside residents and tenant advocates called on the Residential Tenancy Brach (RTB) to fine the owners of the “seven worst” Single Room Occupancy (SRO) hotels in the neighbourhood.

Pivot Legal Society lawyer Laura Track said the Sahota family, which own the Regent, Balmoral, Astoria and Cobalt hotels, and the Laudisios, which own the Brandiz, Powell Rooms and Lucky Lodge hotels, should be punished financially for operating the most rundown rooming houses in the Downtown Eastside.

“The conditions in most of the SROs are quite deplorable… [but] these seven SROs have been identified by a group of housing advocacy organizations as being the worst of the worst,” said Track.

Pivot and the Carnegie Community Action Project claim the Sahotas and the Laudisios have failed to make emergency repairs in their buildings; allowed rodents and insects to infest rooms; verbally abused and threatened tenants; and illegally evicted tenants.

In the past, tenant advocates have called on the City of Vancouver to start using the Standards of Maintenance Bylaw more aggressively by having city staff go into the building to make repairs and then bill the landlord. During the recent municipal election, Mayor Gregor Robertson made enforcing the bylaw a top campaign issue and housing advocates appear to be changing their strategy as they wait for Robertson to fulfil his promise.

Although the Sahotas have been fined more than $35,000 in the past three years under the Standards of Maintenance bylaw, housing advocates want the RTB to use a recently added provision in the Residential Tenancy Act that allows it to fine landlords $5,000 for repeated and serious violations, with additional penalties for everyday the problem goes uncorrected.

“These owners are profiting on the backs of our most vulnerable and marginalized citizens living in these buildings,” said Track. “We want to hit them in the pocket book with this action today, because clearly the property inspections done by the city, the countless decisions that have gone against them at the Residential Tenancy Branch, have not had the effect of improving the conditions in these buildings.”

DJ Joe, who has lived at the Balmoral for more than 11 years, said the Sahotas have refused to make repairs to her one-bedroom apartment, which has writing all over the walls outlining what needs to be repaired. With a scratched voice, she said the mould in her bathroom has caused her health to dangerously deteriorate.

“I can’t eat, I can’t sleep, I’m losing my voice, it hurts when I try and eat, I can’t keep food down now, I’m losing two pounds a day… and they want to put me in the hospital now? I mean what for? They can’t do nothing for me now,” said Joe, who is now worried she will be evicted for publicly speaking out.

The Sahotas have been under intense media scrutiny since the ceilings collapsed in one of their East Vancouver apartments, which forced 81 people to lose their homes. They were also the focus of a major Tyee investigation last November. The Laudicios have been accused of welfare fraud and were forced to hand over their business licence for the Lucky Lodge to their son.

When The Tyee called the Sahotas, an elderly woman took down this reporter’s information and then hung up. Anna Laudisio, however, said she hasn’t done anything wrong.

“I run one of the safest buildings in the Downtown Eastside and I’m proud of it and it’s between me and my God,” she said in a phone interview. “I think anybody that lives here feels safe and comfortable.”

Sean Condon is the editor of Megaphone Magazine.

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