A Downtown Eastside resident who says he was the victim of an Olympics-related eviction has been awarded the right to move back into his apartment. A Residential Tenancy Branch arbitrator ruled last week that the owners of the Golden Crown Hotel have until Feb. 13 to let Reggie Walton back into his suite.
The news comes after a three-month legal battle to remain in his single room occupancy (SRO) hotel, located across the street from the new Woodward's development on West Hastings, even after he was locked out and the property was sold to new owners.
Last August, Walton and the hotel's other low-income tenants were presented with notices from management asking them to vacate their suites by Oct. 31. The notices cited a city order to address pest infestation in the 28-room hotel, but also promised residents first priority to rooms, without rent increases, once repairs were finished.
While the city did order the building's owner, Daniel Jun, to make repairs, a note sent to Jun from the city's chief licence inspector, Barbara Windsor, advised him that eviction notices were not issued "in accordance with the Residential Tenancy Act."
At the time, Windsor told reporters that repairs were ordered, but that they did not necessitate eviction. Housing activists claimed this was an "Olympics eviction," since Jun had tried to evict tenants two years earlier, admitting he hoped to rent the building to Olympics workers.
20 signed away tenancy
Twenty of the Golden Crown's residents signed forms agreeing to end tenancy -- though according to Walton, one tenant, Al Stoval, was coerced to sign after the power and water were shut off in his room. Unlike the other tenancy forms, which date back to September and October, Stoval's tenancy form is dated on Nov. 5.
"I left on the morning of Nov. 1, but I was there when they turned the lights out on the last evening of October," says Walton. "People couldn't even move their stuff out because it was so dark in there."
Cedric Carter, a legal advocate with the Downtown Eastside Residents' Association (DERA), is now appealing to former tenants of the Golden Crown to come forward.
"I'm trying to find out whether former residents signed the tenancy agreements under duress or coercion," he says.
'Fed up with the bugs'
Mary Mallet, one of the building's other residents, says she was not bribed or forced to vacate the building, but left of her own accord because she was "fed up with the bugs and all the other problems." Mallet also says she and other residents had to fight to get their damage deposits and final months' rent back from Jun.
Walton was the only tenant in the building that refused to sign anything without written confirmation that he would be allowed back into his suite once repairs were finished.
"The owner promised us all we could move back," says the 53-year-old. "But I don't think he had any intention of bringing us back."
Walton contacted DERA, where Carter informed him that Jun had no legal right to end his tenancy, and the two began the arbitration process.
Ownership of building quietly changed hands
A land title search has revealed that Jun sold the Golden Crown, which was registered on Nov. 5 to its new owners, Steven Lippman and Danny Wong of 116 West Hastings Holdings LTD.
West Hastings Holdings was incorporated on Oct. 15 of last year, two weeks before the residents at the Golden Crown had to be out.
"Basically Daniel [Jun] lied to get everyone out," says Carter. "What I'd like to know now is whether [Jun] made a statutory declaration that the place was vacant when he sold it."
Moo Park, one of the building's managers, represented Jun at the arbitration hearing on Jan. 21. According to Carter and Walton, Park led everyone at the arbitration hearing to believe that Jun still owned the Golden Crown.
Park denies knowing that the Golden Crown had been sold at the time of arbitration.
A Vancouver real estate blog lists the Golden Crown's selling price at $3.2 million -- and says the property is currently assessed at $1.79 million.
'Could be an example of slow conversion'
The building is protected under the Single Room Accommodation (SRA) bylaw -- which states that an owner wanting to convert rooms in an SRO must pay a conversion rate of $15,000 per room. But because the units will remain single room accommodation, the owners have not technically violated the bylaw.
"This could be an example of slow conversion and an example of how the [SRA] bylaw does not protect low-income tenants," says Carter. "It's another way that an owner can circumvent the bylaw.
"I know it's tough for the city, they're worried about enforcement and lawsuits, but certainly in Reg's case, his room has been converted."
Burns Block at 18 West Hastings recently made headlines after developers announced their plans to convert the 102-year-old building that formerly served as low-income housing into 270-square-foot micro lofts ranging from $675 to $750 per month.
Carter and other housing advocates see the situation at the Golden Crown as further depletion of the neighbourhood's low-income housing stock.
District property use inspector, Rino Modicamore, says that at this point the city is just trying to ascertain what happened between Jun and the new owners, Steven Lippman and Danny Wong.
"It seems like [Jun] lied to the new owners about the building being vacant," explains Modicamore, who also says the new owners have all the necessary permits for renovation.
Rents went up nearly 20 per cent
Suites in the Golden Crown are now being advertised on Vancouver rental websites as "funky, affordable single suites across from Woodward's." Rents range from $650 to $825 per month, with employment and landlord references required.
Before the property transfer, rents ranged from $550 to $700 per month.
Calls to the number listed for 116 West Hastings Holding LTD went unanswered. The building's manager, who is currently working onsite, also says they have been lied to by Jun.
"You have to speak with Daniel Jun because he lied to us," says the manger, who would only says his name is Christian. "He said everyone had moved out and now his lawyer is involved so you really need to ask him about this."
On Thursday, Carter mailed out two orders of possession -- court orders which authorize Walton access to his suite starting Feb. 13 -- to Jun and the owners of 116 West Hastings Holding LTD.
Walton can return to his suite rent-free for the remainder of February and March, but was told by the new management that all his possessions, which he refused to remove from his suite, were now gone. He has since been made homeless by the ordeal, and has been staying at his girlfriend's apartment or sleeping on friends' couches. He has a one-year-old daughter, and says the stress has caused him some sleepless nights.
"All that pressure and strain, it's been hard," says Walton. "I've been on the street for two months."