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Rights + Justice

Three Apartment Fires, One Landlord

Ten years before a Mount Pleasant apartment blaze, a Burnaby building with the same owner was destroyed by flames. Now both properties are vacant.

Jen St. Denis 11 Aug 2023The Tyee

Jen St. Denis is a reporter with The Tyee covering civic issues. Find her on Twitter @JenStDen.

The owners of a Mount Pleasant apartment building that was gutted by fire two weeks ago also owned an apartment building in Burnaby that had two serious fires in 2009 and 2013.

The July 27 fire at 414 E. 10th Ave. in Vancouver displaced 70 tenants. But it’s not the first time a building owned by Fu Ren and his wife Feng Yan has gone up in flames.

A fire at 3526 Smith Ave. in Burnaby on March 2, 2009 injured four tenants, according to a CBC story from the time of the fire. One of those tenants, 60-year-old Sudeshna Nath, died of her injuries, according to Burnaby Now.

A second fire at the same address in 2013 left more than 100 tenants homeless. Today, the site is an empty lot, according to photographs on BC Assessment’s website and Google Maps.

The July 27 fire at 414 E. 10th Ave. left the building uninhabitable, but tenants were able to return to their units for salvageable items on Aug. 3.

The Tyee received information about the history of 3526 Smith Ave. from a source with knowledge of the real estate industry. The Tyee pulled the land title and mortgage documents for the property through the Land Title and Survey Authority. The documents show that Ren and Yan have owned 3526 Smith Ave. since 2006 and continue to own the property today. The lot where the building once stood now lies empty.

The Tyee also received a copy of an email sent on Aug. 4 by Jenny Xu, an agent of Pacific Evergreen Realty, that advertises 414 E. 10th Ave. for sale as a development opportunity.

“I am delighted to share some exciting news with you: we currently have a vacant lot available for sale,” reads the email sent by Xu.

“I wanted to reach out to see if you might know of any developers who could be interested in this incredible opportunity. The lot’s prime location and favourable specifications make it an attractive prospect for potential buyers seeking to invest in a promising development project.”

While Xu said the lot is vacant, the building at 414 E. 10th Avenue still stands on the property. The Tyee contacted Xu by phone and she confirmed that she sent the email.

According to provincial court files reviewed by The Tyee, Ren and Yan have been charged with 20 counts of violating the City of Vancouver’s fire safety bylaw in relation to an inspection of 414 E. 10th Ave. on Nov. 17, 2022. The property owners’ next court appearance is on Aug. 15.

In a telephone interview and texts, Ren told The Tyee he has the evidence to fight the city’s allegations in court. Ren said he had made an appointment for another fire safety inspection, but the July 27 fire happened before that inspection could take place.

Ren added that if the fire department’s response to the July 27 fire had been faster, the fire might have been put out before it spread throughout the building.

Regarding the previous fires at 3526 Smith Ave. in Burnaby, Ren said the 2009 fire was caused when someone left a lit cigarette on a sofa in the lobby. He said the fire department’s response to the 2013 fire was also too slow and that incident was “outside the control of the owner.”

Ren said the fire at 414 E. 10th Avenue had caused him great distress, and he said the building would have to be demolished because it has been so heavily damaged.

Several tenants displaced by the 414 E. 10th Ave. fire say their building was very poorly maintained and they lived in fear of a fire at the building for years. The July 27 blaze gutted the building, leading the city’s chief building official to declare it unsafe to occupy.

While some tenants believe the fire started when a resident left a candle burning, Vancouver Fire Rescue Services has not completed their investigation and could not comment on the cause of the fire.

According to the list of charges filed in provincial court, the City of Vancouver is alleging that fire extinguishers were missing or not maintained adequately, fire exits were blocked and emergency lighting was inoperable when 414 E. 10th Ave. was inspected on Nov. 17, 2022.

The city is also alleging interior fire doors didn’t close properly and the parkade sprinkler system was not being effectively maintained.

In 2022, Ren was found guilty of five fire safety violations at 414 E. 10th Ave. stemming from a fire safety inspection on Nov. 8, 2021. He was fined $500.

In 2017, Ren was also found guilty of one fire safety bylaw violation at the same address: permitting “combustible materials to accumulate.”

In 2009, fire broke out on the third floor of 3526 Smith Ave. at around 11:30 p.m. According to reporting by CBC, the intense fire blocked the front door and some residents were forced to escape from the upper floors. Four people went to hospital with injuries, including a 19-year-old man and an eight-year-old child who had serious burns, and two women with serious injuries, one of whom later died.

In 2013, a fire on Feb. 17 led to over 100 tenants being displaced. Most lost all their belongings to the fire.

Neither the CBC nor the Burnaby Now stories say what caused the two fires. None of the bylaw violation records in provincial court for Ren and Yan are in relation to 3526 Smith Ave.

Today, the empty lot where 3526 Smith Ave. once stood is worth $7.7 million, according to BC Assessment. The property at 414 E. 10th Ave. is currently assessed at $13 million.  [Tyee]

Read more: Rights + Justice, Housing

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