British Columbia·CBC Investigates

Court denies class-action lawsuit against Sahota family, landlords of decrepit hotels

Downtown Eastside resident's attempt to have his lawsuit against Sahota family certified as a class action has failed in the B.C. Court of Appeal.

Legal battle seeks compensation from owners of single-room occupancy towers

Jack Gates was a resident of the Regent Hotel when he first launched a lawsuit against his landlords in 2016. (Eric Rankin/CBC)

There's been a setback in a legal battle seeking compensation for tenants from a family of Vancouver landlords.

The B.C. Court of Appeal has denied a class action lawsuit against the Sahota family which owns dozens of properties in the city, including single-room occupancy hotels on the city's Downtown Eastside (DTES).

The ruling says the B.C. Supreme Court had no jurisdiction to allow a Residential Tenancy Act dispute to proceed as a class action lawsuit. 

Two years ago, DTES resident Jack Gates filed a lawsuit against the Sahotas who owned the Regent Hotel where he lived in 2016.  

The Regent Hotel's bar was closed in June due to "egregious" safety violations, a fire official said. (CBC)

Serious health and safety issues

Court documents say Gates "contends the Sahotas are aware of serious health and safety issues at the Regent resulting from their failure to maintain the building." 

The lawsuit sought damages and an injunction ordering repairs.  

Gates then sought to have the lawsuit certified as a class action, but has now been denied. 

Within minutes of the Court of Appeal ruling, Gates instructed his lawyer to seek leave to appeal to the Supreme Court of Canada. 

"We're not going to quit until the Sahotas do something about their buildings," said Gates.

Vows to keep up the fight

Gates said it's important to keep the fight going on behalf of the hundreds of people who live on the street. 

"Many of these people have been touched by the Sahotas and other slumlords in this area," said Gates. 

"We really need to get the city to step up and get them to maintain these buildings instead of allowing us to live in buildings that are falling apart." 

A CBC investigation has found the Sahota family owns nearly three dozen properties in Vancouver assessed at approximately $204 million. 

Lawyer Jason Gratl says the ruling highlights a massive loophole for landlords of large, poorly maintained buildings. 

"In my mind, it creates a bit of a slumlord loophole," said Gratl. 

"It's cheaper for landlords to fight off individual claims brought before them at the Residential Tenancy Branch than it is for them to actually repair their own buildings." 

In the two years since Gates filed his suit, the City of Vancouver has closed the Regent Hotel and the Balmoral Hotel, also owned by the Sahotas. The two hotels sit on opposite sides of Hastings Street near its intersection with Main Street. The city has applied to expropriate both.

It's estimated 300 low-income tenants were forced to find new homes when the crumbling towers were shut down. 

With files from Paisley Woodward

If you have a story we should look into, contact us at investigate@cbc.ca

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Belle Puri is a veteran journalist who has won awards for her reporting in a variety of fields.