Vancouver council gave the city's legal department Wednesday the authority to seek a court injunction against the landlord of some of downtown's worst single-room-occupancy hotels in an effort to ensure repairs get done to one of their buildings on the Granville Street strip.
But lawyer Evan Cooke, acting on behalf of the Sahota family, argued the injunction was unnecessary because 90 per cent of work at the Regal Hotel has been completed and the remainder will be finished in two to four weeks.
“The last work that needs to be done is quite minor, and I understand that it will be done before an injunction could even be obtained,” Cooke told council by telephone. “So it seems a bit of a make-work project given the owners’ efforts to comply.”
Cooke said a fire separation wall, applying yellow paint to some of the stairs and addressing other “minor items” are what’s left to do on the hotel, which is located at 1046 Granville St.
Council’s decision to seek an injunction was based on a staff report that described the Regal as being “in an unsafe condition” and represented “an ongoing risk to the life safety of the residents in the building.”
The report was written in July, with Cooke pointing out most of the work had been completed in the past three months, which city lawyer Grant Murray acknowledged during the meeting.
Staff said it requested the approval to seek an injunction because the owners failed to complete repairs that city inspectors identified in 2018 and 2019, which contravened the building bylaw.
That included structural damage to the second floor and the lack of a second egress on the fifth floor of the building — both of which have been addressed, Cooke said.
Coun. Jean Swanson questioned Cooke on why council should believe the remainder of the work on the hotel will get done, noting the history of the landlords who allowed hotels such as the Balmoral and Regent on East Hastings Street to deteriorate.
Cooke acted on behalf of the Sahotas when the family reached an undisclosed settlement with the city in 2020 to sell the buildings. The Balmoral has been vacant since 2017 and the Regent since 2018.
The city closed both buildings because they were deemed unsafe to occupy.
“I think that the hope from the family at that time was that coming to a resolution of those matters [with the Balmoral and Regent] would result in the turning over of a new leaf in the relationship between the family and the city,” Cooke told Swanson.
He suggested council’s move to allow staff to seek an injunction was “punitive” and based on the family’s history with some of its hotels and not the present circumstance.
Asked by councillors Lisa Dominato and Sarah Kirby-Yung why the work at the Regal has taken so long to complete, Cooke pointed to the death of the family’s matriarch in 2020, the negotiations related to the sale of the Balmoral and Regent and problems associated with finding contractors to work in a densely populated hotel during the pandemic.
“The nature of this building and its occupants has made it a difficult work environment,” he said of the 1910-era hotel.
“Also, some of the structural work that has been done has opened up walls, opened up floors and revealed complex and ancient services, water, electrical and so forth that has required some fairly creative work on the part of contractors."
Cooke said in an email after the meeting that he was disappointed in council’s decision and reiterated that 90 per cent of the work has been completed at the Regal, which is officially owned by Regal Eighty Management Corp., whose director is Parkash K. Sahota, with an address in Shaughnessy.
In August, Glacier Media reported that the B.C. government-owned St. Helen's Hotel at 1161 Granville St. — a couple of blocks south of the Regal — had been hit with 80 orders to address issues related mainly to fire and health safety standards identified by city inspectors in June.
Of the 80 violations found, 46 were considered “life safety issues” mostly consisting of missing or defective smoke alarms and automatic door closers. Fire escape obstructions were also identified.
The other 34 violations related to electrical fixtures, outlets, doors, windows and plumbing fixtures in disrepair, along with holes in walls and ceilings and pest control issues, according to details on the city’s rental property standards database and information supplied to Glacier Media via email from Saul Schwebs, the city’s acting chief building official.
City staff has not sought council's authority to seek an injunction against the provincial government.