Archive for November 30th, 2011

12 Maple Ridge tenants evicted due to safety concerns

Wednesday, November 30th, 2011

December 1st, 2011

Twelve people in Hammond had to find a new home in a hurry with winter and nightfall approaching, after the Maple Ridge Fire Department evacuated the building they lived in Friday because of safety concerns.

The fire department ordered the emptying of the four-suite, 80-year-old building at 11293 – 113th Ave., after finding electrical meters had been removed and power bypasses hooked up.

“The issue for us was the building was without safe electrical connection. The Hydro has been disconnected from the building based on unsafe installation,” fire chief Dane Spence said Tuesday.

“The thing that made it immediate was the unsafe electrical and the fire alarm system.”

He said there was some allegations that some people didn’t have the right to be there, but Spence said his focus was on the safety of the building and the people residing there.

“In this case, I could not make it safe. It was not a safe situation.”

He sympathized with the tenants, but said it was his responsibility to ensure safety.

The owner of the building will have to bring the building up to code before people can re-occupy it.

Reg Hudon, former caretaker of the building, said the fire department was in too much of a hurry, given that B.C. Hydro crews were on their way to re-install the meters and complete electrical repairs.

“The [fire] chief came over to condemn the building. A half-hour later B.C. Hydro were coming to put back the meters.”

Some of the tenants that were booted out, took out their anger on the building and did further damage “just because they didn’t want to move.

“They’re all gone. I don’t know where they are,” he added.

“Some were afraid to offend the authorities, so they just took off right away.”

Kerry Fortney was one who had to leave. She and her boyfriend and her dog had been living there since September, paying $700 rent, utilities included. She had two hours to collect her belongings and get out.

“I liked living there. I didn’t think it was too bad.”

The trio have had to go to a friend’s house while they look for another place. But she’s already down $150 that she had to pay to put her belongings in storage.

Hudon said there were some issues with drugs at the building, but that it was in good condition.

“It may be old, he said, but “it’s a nice, cosy, warm building.”

Residents in two of the four suites, which rent for $700 a month for a one bedroom suite, were on income assistance.

A complicated domestic legal battle also surrounds the building.

Hudon is fighting a Residential Tenancy Branch order from June, evicting him from the caretaker suite. A judicial review of that takes place Dec. 16. However, on Oct. 24, he received a separate order giving him exclusive occupancy of the suite until the whole issue of the building’s ownership has been settled.

In January, he was terminated as the caretaker, but his lawyer disputes that and says he was a common law husband of the building’s owner. In September, a court order told him not to interfere with the tenants.

Hudon also made a claim on the ownership of the building. That’s yet to be set for trial.

But that’s not the issue, he says.

“The issue is these people have no place to go.”

“Don’t want to hurt anybody, but we want to let them know everybody has a right to a roof over their head, especially around Christmas and winter.”

The jury speaks: Allow inspectors to issue fines to property owners

Wednesday, November 30th, 2011

November 29th, 2011

A terrible tragedy.   A rooming house fire resulting in the death of three men.

The fire happened at 2862 Pandora St. last December 22nd.  The rooming house was described by Vancouver official as “illegal.”

Nearly a year later, the jury recommended to the B.C. Attorney-General’s office that provincial inspection units should have the authority to issue immediate penalties to landlords through fines or tickets.  The jury also recommended it be easier for the government to shut down dangerous rental properties.

The Pandora Street house had been the subject of numerous city inspections after complaints from neighbours that males were urinating in the backyard. It contained broken plumbing, non-working toilets and illegal construction, according to evidence during two days of testimony.

The men’s deaths led to suggestions that the city and owner Choi Leong should be held responsible, as between them they had allowed the house to remain essentially in the same condition as when inspectors swarmed over it in the summer of 2010 looking for anything dangerous enough to get the power cut off.

There were many problems, including unsafe wiring, but inspectors failed to find anything in the electrical system dangerous enough to justify having the premises deemed an imminent risk to safety.

So instead of cutting off power and essentially putting the residents out on the street, the city’s inspection department began the protracted process of seeking a court order to have the rooming home closed, a process that would have likely taken two years.

Leong was ordered by the city to close down the rooming house by Oct. 31st – an empty threat that officials hoped she might accede to. Leong said she gave notice to her tenants, who agreed to leave in the new year.

Someone brought an artificial Christmas tree into the home and placed a set of incandescent bulbs on it (not LED bulbs as formerly reported) using an extension cord to bring power from a wall socket.

However, it became clear any reason to blame either Leong or the city directly for the fire disappeared with the testimony of Vancouver’s chief fire investigator Capt. Ray Bryant.

Bryant said an investigation found no fault with the house wiring in relation to the fire and that an electrical fault had developed either in the extension cord or the lights themselves, causing the tree to ignite and set fire to a nearby mattress.

The three victims had been drinking heavily in the hours before the fire and were not aroused by the smoke and flames. They died of smoke inhalation after being pulled from the home by firefighters who were on the scene within minutes of the alarm.

The inquest also heard that none of the residents had ever complained about their living conditions and city staff said the home – though in poor condition and squalid – was by no means the worst example of such housing in Vancouver. The only time any emotion entered the proceedings was at the end of the testimony of city inspector Pamela Kiselbach, who had dealt extensively with the residents and had recommended court action against Leong.

Asked by coroner Owen Court how she felt upon hearing of the fire and the mens deaths, Kiselbach said she was devastated. “I never thought there would be a fire there. I knew these people. I was their little inspector from city hall,” she said with self-mockery.

“But you’re the first one to ask me about it.”

To read the original story please click here.