New precedent for holding landlords of privately-owned SRO hotels accountable to the law
Angela May Kruger
January 28, 2016
“Tenants are afraid if they ask for repairs the Landlords will evict them and they’ll be homeless,” said Jack Gates, tenant of the Regent Hotel. “But when we work together, we can change things in our hotels.”
Rats, mice, cockroaches, and bedbugs are part of daily life for most Single Room Occupancy (SRO) Residential hotel tenants like Jack. Tenants also live without basic services like heat, hot water, electricity, elevator service, water pressure, even, in some cases without locking doors.
Jack, along with a small group of SRO tenants with the newly formed SRO Collaborative, a project of Atira Development Society, have banded together to do something about it and recently won two unprecedented victories at the Lion Hotel at 316 Powell Street and the Sahota-owned Regent Hotel at 160 Hastings Street.
Owners of these hotels have been served written legal orders by the City of Vancouver, giving each landlord 60 days to comply with the city’s Standards of Maintenance By-Law. At The Lion, ‘slumlord millionaire’ Abolghasem Abdollahi has until Jan. 26 to bring heat and hot water to the building. At The Regent, fixing the heat and hot water as well as the repair of a door must take place before Feb. 15. If either landlord does not comply with these conditions, the City of Vancouver can step in and do the repairs, billing the landlord for the work.
Although the Standards of Maintenance By-law has been in place since 1981, the City rarely “takes full responsibility” and bi-passes a landlord to do the repair themselves (only one time in Vancouver history, decades ago). But it looks like it may happen at the Lion Hotel on January 26. The Collaborative will be there to make sure that the repairs are done.
How did all this happen?
The Collaborative helped Regent and Lion tenants record the temperature of the heat and hot water in their rooms, call 311 to complain to city inspectors and also organized Residential Tenancy Branch hearings so they can get compensation for no heat and hot water. They also helped tenants navigate landlord backlash.
“We’re adding these orders at the Regent and Lion to our list of victories in 2015,” said Wendy Pedersen, Community Organizer with the Collaborative. “Along with helping West Hotel tenants organize the largest legal case against a landlord in BC History, we’re really excited about the city taking full responsibility. Tenants already have more confidence to keep up the pressure.”
According to the Collaborative, spirits in these hotels are higher than normal and they expect, with more hard work from tenant leaders, to have more victories in 2016. Mohammad Valayati, Collaborative Organizer working with tenants at the Lion Hotel said “this is just a start. We want to have tenant organizers in all the privately owned SROs. SRO tenants are used to being mistreated and we’re showing them how to win back their tenant rights.”
Mohammad and Jack at Strategy Meeting for Collaborative Tenant Organizers
Please join us for the 2nd annual SRO TENANT CONVENTION [click on poster below for more information].
Check out our last year’s (2014) SRO Tenant Convention highlight video.
On October 19, 2014, we held the first SRO Tenant Convention at the Japanese Language Hall. Over 200 SRO tenants and community members came together to talk about taking action and responding to injustices tenants face on a daily basis. We had a delicious lunch made by our friends at WATARI. Check out the Convention video made by Indigenous Community Planner and multidisciplinary artist Wilson Mendes above.
Initial info meeting: Saturday June 20 at 4PM at Keefer and Columbia (look for our sign)
Are you interested in volunteering with Chinese seniors in the Downtown Eastside? Come to this fun social event to learn more and to meet local Chinese residents!
Saturday July 4, 2015
Volunteer application form: http://goo.gl/forms/e2yvMX6kiU
Chinese Intergenerational Outreach Project Volunteer Opportunity
The SRO Collaborative is seeking dynamic multi-lingual candidates to serve as volunteers for the Youth for Chinese Seniors Project. Volunteers will shape the project’s first year and beyond, reaching out to Chinese seniors and families living in low-income housing in the Downtown Eastside. Outreach for this position is focused on youth, but anyone is welcome to apply. This is an 8-month volunteer position based in Vancouver Coast Salish Territories.
About the SRO Collaborative
The Downtown Eastside SRO Collaborative Project is working to improve habitability and prevent renovictions in SRO hotels in Vancouver Coast Salish Territories. Our strategy is to start organizing within the worst of the worst – the privately-owned SROs. We bring tenants together to file complaints for safety and management conditions at the Residential Tenancy Branch and to support City Inspectors’ efforts, where possible, to bring buildings up to code. The Youth for Chinese Seniors project, the Chinese arm of the SRO Collaborative, aims to gather a community of Chinese tenants to address housing issues together.
About the Volunteer Position
Youth for Chinese Seniors volunteers will receive training on organizing skills, political education, housing issues, and elder issues. Volunteers will work on the ground with tenants to help them access the services they need, train tenants on housing rights, and identify the issues affecting Chinese residents in the Downtown Eastside.
-Outreach (door-knocking) in BC Housing, non-profit, and privately-owned buildings
-Lightly support Chinese seniors, such as doing home visits (volunteers must be 19+), translation and interpretation, accompaniment to medical appointments, and more
-Facilitate Know Your Rights workshops to develop tenant leadership
-Provide feedback on your experiences with project coordinator to build this program
-Optional: Translation and interpretation support for broader DTES community groups
-Excellent interpersonal skills
-Cultural competency in working with Chinese communities
-Multilingual in English and Cantonese or Mandarin (or related dialects)
Because outreach to tenants usually takes place during evening hours and weekends, we prefer volunteers who have availability on weeknights and Saturday/Sunday. Volunteers should commit 5-10 hours/week. Volunteers may receive a small honorarium, subject to funding availability. The project runs from now until March.
Application form: http://goo.gl/forms/e2yvMX6kiU
Applications will be accepted on a rolling basis. Send inquiries and applications to Chanel at firstname.lastname@example.org.
In partnership with Anita Lau, the Downtown Eastside Women’s Centre Chinese Seniors Outreach Worker. Email email@example.com for more info.
West Hotel Tenant holding up evidence of rat infestation.
What have we been up to?
Since January, the SRO Collaborative has been helping the remaining tenants on fixed incomes to get compensation at the Clifton Hotel (1125 Granville) which is in the last stages of emptying out and renovating likely for higher income renters. We are also at the West Hotel (488 Carrall) working to improve security, habitability and tenant rights. This is our organizing model – we will be taking on a building one at a time. West tenants will file a joint complaint through the Residential Tenancy Branch soon. If successful, over $20,000 will go into the pockets of the tenants!
There are many vulnerable Chinese seniors living in SROs in the neighbourhood that are isolated and becoming increasingly impoverished. Chanel Ly, our Chinese advocate, will be coordinating tenant rights services for Chinese seniors in the neighbourhood and bringing young Chinese people to the neighbourhood to learn how to be advocates themselves. As we organize, SRO tenants will be producing short films to share their stories through video. This project will be led by Indigenous filmmaker and community planner Wilson Mendes.
How can you get involved?
SRO tenants are invited to our strategy meetings every Saturday from 12 noon to 1:30pm at 253 E Hastings (next to the Ovaltine) starting on April 18, 2015! We’ll be choosing our next buildings to work in soon! Wheelchair accessible. Lunch will be provided.
Contact information: 604-646-8585, firstname.lastname@example.org
Starting Saturday April 18, past and present SRO tenants are invited to discuss how we can organize together for tenant rights. Here are the details:
Saturdays at 12 noon
253 East Hastings (next to the Ovaltine)
Wheelchair accessible. Lunch will be provided!