Councillor wants to add ‘teeth’ to bylaw enforcing Vancouver building maintenance

Click to play video: 'SRO residents facing fourth day without heat' SRO residents facing fourth day without heat
Residents of Vancouver's Regal at 1046 Granville St. say they spent a fourth day in the cold, Tuesday, as repairs to the single room occupancy building were slow to be felt. City inspectors arrived at the building in the afternoon to check on the work. Rumina Daya reports – Dec 28, 2021

A Vancouver city councillor wants to toughen the bylaw responsible for cracking down on residential building owners who let their properties fall into dangerous disrepair.

Coun. Sarah Kirby-Yung is bringing a motion to council Tuesday, that would have staff look into ways to add “teeth” to the city’s Standards of Maintenance By-Law, which ensures properties are free of hazards and meet health and fire codes.

Kirby-Yung said the proposal comes in the wake of problems arising in low-income housing during recent cold snaps.

Read more: Heat still not fully restored at Vancouver SRO where residents have been cold since Christmas

“In December, people will recall that the Regal SRO (single-room occupancy hotel) on Granville Street downtown. Their heating systems failed and we literally had residents in the building for days on end with no heat,” she said.

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“Despite the operator providing assurances to the City of Vancouver it had been fixed, we were still hearing from residents that that wasn’t the case and there were a number of rooms and people without heat.”

Click to play video: 'The fight for heating in some SROs, one Vancouver City Councillor takes to social media' The fight for heating in some SROs, one Vancouver City Councillor takes to social media
The fight for heating in some SROs, one Vancouver City Councillor takes to social media – Dec 31, 2021

Under the current bylaw, Kirby-Yung said building operators are responsible for fixing a problem, and have 60 days to do so before they can be cited with an infraction.

She said that length of time is unacceptable in a situation like the December freeze, when failure to act quickly is a health and safety issue.

The motion to council Tuesday calls on staff to explore cutting the period of time before the city can step in and do the work itself, with a bill for repairs going to the owner.

Read more: Owners of notorious Vancouver SROs fined just $150k over hundreds of violations

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Kirby-Yung said she also wants to hear recommendations about stiffening fines against repeat offenders.

Under the current bylaw, offenders face a minimum fine of $250 and a maximum fine of $10,000 per day.

“When you have, for example, problem operators that have in the past had issues, or have documented cases repeatedly of having issues with their buildings, I think there’s an opportunity to look at a different secondary level of fines for folks that are continually contravening the bylaw,” she said.

In 2020, the City of Vancouver took over the Balmoral and the Regent, a pair of dilapidated SROs on the Downtown Eastside, after the buildings were evacuated in 2017 and 2018 for “life safety” reasons after years of neglected maintenance and bylaw infractions.

The city initially tried to appropriate the buildings for $1, but later settled with the owners for an undisclosed sum.

Kirby-Yung’s proposed motion would have staff come back with recommendations about how to toughen the bylaw by the end of the second quarter of 2022.

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