British Columbia·CBC Investigates

Balmoral Hotel's disabled tenants trapped by broken elevator

Residents confined to wheelchairs or walkers stranded on upper floors, unable to buy food.

Residents confined to wheelchairs or walkers stranded on upper floors, unable to buy food

Former Balmoral Hotel resident Rosemary Brown inside her seventh floor unit in October 2015. (CBC News)

Disabled residents of the notorious Balmoral Hotel on Vancouver's Downtown Eastside have been trapped in their rooms since Saturday— the building's sole elevator, broken down and out of commission.

Some of the estimated 200 low-income tenants, who already live with cockroaches, rats and bed bugs, have told CBC News they are outraged the elevator has been left unrepaired for so long by the Balmoral's owner.

The Balmoral Hotel is a single room occupancy hotel on Vancouver's Downtown Eastside. (CBC News)

The hotel has eight stories of single room occupancy units, with approximately 23 rooms per floor.

Jason McNally, 47, has lived in one for the past year.

He invited CBC inside the Balmoral for a tour, saying the public needs to be made aware of what's going on — and the hardship faced by elderly and disabled tenants.

"I'm angry, mad, you know, sad. It's unfortunate. And people (have) got to know."

David Laing, who lives on the eighth floor filed a complaint with the Residential Tenancy Branch Friday, requesting emergency repairs plus $5 per day compensation for every day without service.

Many of the Balmoral's tenants are on disability pensions and confined to wheelchairs or walkers.

'I'm trapped'

Rosemary Brown, 66, is one of them — a diabetic who lives on the seventh floor and relies on the elevator to make her daily trip to buy groceries.

"I'm trapped. I can't do anything." she told CBC News.

"I could try walking down those stairs, but I'd probably fall and hurt myself. Or more likely kill myself, because I don't know how steep they are."

Rosemary Brown's 200-square-foot-room is big enough for her bed and her walker and not much else. (CBC News)

Brown's approximately 200-square-foot room has no refrigerator or hotplate — just a bed, a small table, and her walker.

She fears her health is at risk, because she's had little to eat for days.

During CBC's visit, she had only two slices of bread and some ground coffee to last her until someone came to her aid.

"I can't go out shopping. I have to pick up groceries," she said. "And the fact that I'm a diabetic, I have to eat the right foods. I noticed when I took my blood sugars, they were high."

Brown is a former nurse's aide from Ontario who has no addiction issues, but fell on hard times in recent years.

She moved into the Balmoral Hotel less than a month ago, and worries about asking for help from her fellow tenants.

"I don't dare ask anyone else to get me anything because I'd probably never see the money I gave them. So I'm sitting here hoping and praying that they fix the elevator so I can go out and get some groceries."

8 flights of stairs, 8 times a day

As she talked to CBC, help came in the form of a knock on the door from McNally.

He's been climbing eight flights of stairs as often as eight times a day to bring food into the building for fellow tenants.

"I'll do the running if need be. I feed them as best I can," McNally told CBC, "(But) we're not rich either, obviously, living in the Balmoral."

Jason McNally has been living in the Balmoral with his wife for the past year. (CBC News)

The 47-year-old former truck driver received head injuries in a crash a few years ago and is now on disability.

He's lived in the Balmoral with his wife, Tracey, for the past year.

The average rent for the single room occupancy units is $675 a month, per person. Despite the name, many of the SRO's have two or three residents.

McNally is angry the Balmoral's landlords, the Sahota family, have left the elevator unrepaired for so long.

"It's totally ridiculous. I mean, they've got to be able to get their old folks up and down … If there was an emergency, how are [disabled tenants] going to get out of here?"

Voted worse SRO in Vancouver

Just last year, the Balmoral was voted the worst SRO hotel on Vancouver's Downtown Eastside by a convention of SRO tenants.

Pal Sahota returned CBC's call regarding the broken down elevator, but when asked about the issue, he hung up abruptly.

The Sahota family is well known through Metro Vancouver for owning problem properties.

Balmoral Hotel owner Pal Sahota and his family have a history of running hotels with "slum-like" conditions. (CBC News)

The Balmoral hotel alone has six outstanding issues, according to the City of Vancouver's Rental Standards database.

A City of Vancouver spokesperson said the building owner has told them he's waiting for a part, before the elevator can be fixed.

But McNally is skeptical.

"I wouldn't hold my breath, because I ask every day and it's 'tomorrow, tomorrow, tomorrow,'" he said.

"They're getting 600-and-some-odd dollars per suite, and they're not doing anything for maintenance," he said. "I mean this is Canada, not a third world country."

Sahota family buildings' history

Brothers Pal (Paul) Sahota and Gurdyal Singh Sahota and their families own various buildings that have been cited for "slum-like" conditions over the years.

Some notable examples:

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Eric Rankin

Investigative journalist

Eric Rankin is an award-winning CBC reporter. His honours include the 2018 Canadian Screen Award for Best Local Reportage, the 2017 and 2015 RTDNA awards for Best In-depth/Investigative Reporting, and the 2009 Jack Webster award for Best News Reporting.


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