Vancouver Regent Hotel tenants fight for heat, hot water
City bylaws require lodging owners provide heat essentials, but Regent tenants shiver in the cold
Life is tough on Vancouver's Downtown Eastside — but the recent cold snap made it even tougher for residents of the rundown Regent Hotel on East Hastings Street.
As the thermometer plunged, so did temperatures inside many rooms at the 102-year-old Regent, because residents and activists say there has been no heat and hot water there for months.
To check their claims, the CBC went undercover — because tenants say hotel management can often ban visitors.
Resident Jack Gates took us inside, even though he knows he risks eviction.
"Welcome to my home" said Gates as he unlocked the door to his tiny second floor room.
Approximately 10-by-14 feet, the room contains all of his belongings.
Gates is a reformed addict — one year clean. He says he stays in the single room occupancy hotel because the cheap accommodation is all he can afford on a disability pension.
He pays $475 in rent each month, most of that a taxpayer subsidy for housing.
But Gates believes he, and taxpayers, aren't getting their money's worth.
"I know I paid my rent for the heat and hot water and I don't have it," said Gates.
He turns on his hot water tap to demonstrate.
"I can leave this on for an hour and the hot water won't come on," he said.
And then there's the lack of heat from the room's ancient steam radiator. It has a hole in the top and is stone cold.
Hotel management has ordered a missing part and has given Gates a small space heater in the meantime, but he says he can't use it because it blows the electrical circuits in his room.
12 degrees Celsius
CBC News took an electronic thermometer into his room, to measure the air temperature. At one point, it reached as low as 12 C.
"I haven't had heat in here since I moved in last year, in August," Gates said. "For me, it's pretty bad."
And he isn't alone.
Activists with the Downtown Eastside SRO Collaborative claim a survey of Regent Hotel tenants found at least 30 of the more than 150 rooms are without heat and hot water. But Gates is the only resident willing to complain publicly.
"I don't like to speak for myself, but I know I'm speaking for a lot of people in here," he said. "They need someone to stand-up for them, too."
Some tenants are taking desperate — and dangerous — measures to try to stay warm.
Gates turns his portable hot plate to "high" — the two exposed elements burning red hot in his crowded room.
Activists have also shown the CBC a photograph of another tenant, who uses his toaster oven as a heat source beside his bed.
"These are old buildings, old wooden structures that could go up like a match", said Wendy Pedersen of the Downtown Eastside SRO Collaborative.
"People shouldn't be living without heat and hot water especially at this time of year. It's terrible."
Skid row landlord
The Regent hotel is owned by the Sahota family, operators of some of the most notorious hotels in the Downtown Eastside.
The "registered director" is Parkash Sahota — but numerous phone calls by the CBC requesting an interview weren't returned. So the CBC went to the listed mailing address of the owners — a $3.5 million home in Kerrisdale.
Parkash Sahota responded to our knock at the door.
Asked about the lack of heat and hot water for months in many rooms at the Regent Hotel, she said, "We are fixing it," before closing the door.
City bylaws not enforced
Vancouver's Standards of Maintenance bylaws clearly states:
"Every lodging house operator shall … provide water at a temperature range of 49 to 60 degrees Celsius at all times…" and maintain a "heating system in good working order and repair … at a temperature not lower than 20 degrees Celsius…" between 8 a.m. and midnight, and no lower than 16 degrees overnight."
Landlords can face fines of up to $10,000 a day for each offence.
In fact, the city has just finished cracking down on another skid row landlord.
Many residents of The Lion Hotel on Powell Street complained, they too, had been without heat and hot water.
The owner was given 60 days notice to make repairs or face prosecution.
Only hours after Coun. Melissa De Genova called the situation at the Lion Hotel "urgent," the city announced that heat and hot water had been fully restored.
"Staff continue to keep pressure on the owner and are working with fire prevention and Vancouver Coastal Health to address all outstanding violations in this building," the city said in an emailed statement.
So why hasn't the city cracked down at the Regent Hotel?
City steps in
Andreea Toma, the city's chief licence inspector, says the Regent had its yearly inspection in late September.
City inspectors found 66 violations of the Standards of Maintenance bylaw — including rat feces and repairs needed to walls and electrical outlets — but didn't discover the lack of heat or hot water.
A subsequent inspection in early November found 43 violations still outstanding, but again, no heating issues.
Now Toma says the city will look into the new complaints, calling it a "top priority."
"Heat and hot water as you can fully understand is a basic need, and it gets our attention" she told CBC News. "At the end of the day, we just want to be aware of what's going on in the building."
Coun. Kerry Jang says he'll also be turning up the heat on the heat issue.
"I will be taking it to our city staff and saying 'what's going on here,'" said Jang, adding the city will look at "what we can do to expedite repairs right away."
Jack Gates just wants to make sure he and his fellow tenants at the Regent Hotel don't have to shiver in the cold —inside their suites.
"I don't want to get out from under the blankets. It's really cold," he said.
"I don't believe I'm asking for too much."
With files from Enza Uda