British Columbia

Lawyer for tenants on Vancouver's Downtown Eastside prepares to suspend eviction order

A lawyer representing the tenants of the Balmoral Hotel says the City of Vancouver rushed its decision to evict the residents of the derelict Downtown Eastside single room occupancy, and has not adequately prepared to relocate them.

Jason Gratl says the city didn't adequately consult with tenants at the Balmoral Hotel

The Balmoral Hotel has long been plagued with problems with tenants complaining about unsafe living conditions. (Tina Lovgreen/CBC)

A lawyer representing the tenants of the Balmoral Hotel says the City of Vancouver rushed its decision to evict the residents of the derelict Downtown Eastside single room occupancy residence, and does not have an adequate plan to relocate them.

The city served eviction notices on Friday, saying years of neglect by the building's owners, the Sahota family, have left the Balmoral unfit to live in because of structural and fire concerns.

Residents have until June 12 to leave.

Not only does lawyer Jason Gratl take issue with the city's determination that evictions are essential to the repairs its ordered, he also questions its plan to relocate the Balmoral's residents.

Behind a wooden board at the Balmoral Hotel is this garbage filled-room. (Tina Lovgreen/CBC)

'There was no consultation'

"There was no consultation with tenants [before the eviction order], we had no opportunity to bring in our own structural engineers, and no opportunity to tour the building with the independent engineers," he said.

In a statement Friday, the city said outreach workers have been meeting with tenants to assess their individual needs.

The city said those who can't immediately find other housing options will be relocated to emergency shelters while city staff, B.C. Housing and Vancouver Coastal Health work to find a more permanent solution.

Not good enough, said Gratl, who believes many residents will be forced to stay in emergency shelters.

Residents describe the smell of the electrical rooms at the Balmoral Hotel as 'the closest you can get to the smell of a dead person without a body'. (Tina Lovgreen/CBC)

"For many of the tenants, an emergency shelter is a mat on a gym floor. It's just inadequate," he said.

That's a sentiment shared by the Balmoral's tenants, many of whom say that while the SRO is far from ideal, they prefer it to a shelter, especially when it comes to security.

One resident said, as a single woman, she feels particularly unsafe in shelters.

In their Friday statement, the city pointed out that the Sahotas are obliged to support their tenants through the relocation process.

Prepared to file injunction

Gratl hopes to meet Monday with the engineers the city consulted on its decision to evict.

He's also considering commissioning another, independent report to determine how necessary that eviction is.

If he learns eviction is essential, he says he'll file for an injunction to prevent it until there is an adequate plan to relocate the tenants.

"Whether that's an apartment building across the street that's owned by the Sahotas that's slightly better than a condemned building, whether that's an apartment building in Surrey, or whether it's the Hyatt Regency, these folks need a place to live," Gratl said.

Gratl is representing the tenants of the Balmoral in two class-action lawsuits, one targeting the city for not exercising its powers to force repairs earlier, the other targeting the Sahotas for allowing the building to decay to its current state.