In June of 2011, with the help of community workers from CCAP and VANDU, we began to organize tenants in the Wonder and Palace hotels against their landlord at the time, George Wolsey. This wasn't the first time that Mr. Wolsey's name had come up along with a laundry list of alleged rights violations, mistreatment of tenants, and buildings left to disintegrate. What was unique this time was that it appeared we had some formidable back-up in the City of Vancouver, whose inspectors had finally intervened in the two hotels, threatening to seek a court injunction which would force the landlord to make desperately needed repairs.
In those days I don't think any of us realized we were embarking on a legal action that would still be active today, two years later, after winding its way from the Residential Tenancy Branch to the court system, through the chambers of City Hall, and eventually back yet again to the arbitration phone lines of the Residential Tenancy Branch. This last week I finished our 20th hearing against Mr. Wolsey documenting the horrific conditions suffered by a blind tenant who spent three years at the Wonder Hotel; one of many disturbing stories we have gathered over the years.
As we wait for the written decisions on our latest cases to arrive it has become readily apparent that this entire process could have been a lot easier for everyone involved. And even worse than the administrative hiccups and lengthy appeals which have come along the way has been the fact that the tenants know that success in these cases only brings with it more headache, trying to enforce a legal order against a landlord who has been as evasive as possible, and not afraid to use the system to his advantage.
This is one of the many reasons why we have teamed up with other legal organizations who work in housing to draft up a set of recommendations for reforming the Residential Tenancy Act. Recommendation #7, which asks for administrative penalties to be levied against landlords who abuse the Act to retaliate against tenants, was born from our direct experiences in these cases. When city hall held a public meeting to gather information about the Wonder and Palace hotels a handful of residents were brave enough to come forward and tell their experience. Many were subsequently locked out of the building without notice, losing all of their belongings.
The word preventable sticks out when you see a case like this. And while these hearings will certainly set positive precedent for tenant compensation when a landlord allows a building to deteriorate, the circumstances, conditions, and government inaction which led to this litigation were all clearly avoidable. Two years on we continue to fight for the tenants of the Wonder and Palace hotels. Whether or not the municipal and provincial governments who regulate housing standards in our province will help in this fight by creating real legislative deterrence for abusive landlords remains to be seen.