British Columbia

Balmoral Hotel residents, fearing eviction, occupy Vancouver mayor's office

Two dozen residents of a Downtown Eastside hotel entered the mayor's office and said they wouldn't leave until the issues with the rotting building are resolved.

Residents wanted a guarantee they won't be displaced from their SRO, which has significant maintenance issues

Residents of the Balmoral Hotel protest at Vancouver City Hall on June 1, 2017. (Natasha Frakes/CBC)

More than 20 residents of a single room occupancy hotel on the Downtown Eastside protested in Vancouver Mayor Gregor Robertson's city hall office for several hours Wednesday, saying they wouldn't leave until the issues with the rotting building are resolved. 

A statement from the Carnegie Community Action Project (CCAP), which is supporting the residents of the Balmoral Hotel at 159 East Hastings Street, said the tenants refused to leave until they got copies of engineer reports and "a guarantee that the city will pay for emergency repairs while not displacing tenants during the renovations."

The building, long plagued with problems, holds 150 tenants and is at the "risk of collapsing," said a CCAP coordinator. 

The group argued the "Residential Tenancy Branch does not have enough power to defend us and city hall has not enforced their maintenance bylaws."

It also believes that, if the building is condemned and tenants are forced to leave, it will be sold and renovated for high-income residents. 

In a statement, Mayor Gregor Robertson said the hotel conditions are "disgusting."

"No resident of Vancouver should have to live in housing like that. The repeated building and safety violations are putting some of our most vulnerable residents at risk and are a massive strain on city resources," he wrote. 

Robertson said staff are looking at "every possible" regulatory and legal tool at their disposal to force the owners to improve the Balmoral.

The building is owned by the Sahota family, which runs a number of Vancouver buildings for low-income residents that have had maintenance issues in recent years. 

City Coun. Geoff Meggs, who visited the protesters to listen to their concerns, said the Sahotas have a poor track record as landlords, and didn't mince words in his characterization of them.

"They're despicable slumlords, and that's been true for a long time," he said.

"The last thing we want to do is dislocate anybody. The first thing we want to do is get the place safe. I think some of you have reflected that catch-22." 

Meggs said the city has been in discussions to purchase the building, but could make no guarantees.

"The reality is that city staff have been working as hard as they can, with what I think are inadequate tools, to force the landlords to behave in the way that most other landlords in the city do," Meggs said, "and make [the building] safe for people to live in."

The protesters eventually left the office after repeated requests by security guards. The Sahotas have not responded to repeated requests for comment by CBC News.