City orders owners to clean up apartment building

Mary Cappell, a resident at a Cameron Street apartment building in New Westminster, says the front entrance way is slippery and dangerous, one of many complaints residents made about the building during a rally Thursday. - Grant Granger/NewsLeader
Mary Cappell, a resident at a Cameron Street apartment building in New Westminster, says the front entrance way is slippery and dangerous, one of many complaints residents made about the building during a rally Thursday.
— image credit: Grant Granger/NewsLeader

Owners of a Cameron Street apartment building have been hit with fines totaling $5,700 and issued a compliance order by the city to correct several maintenance deficiencies and to retain qualified professionals to assess many areas of the block.

The moves follow a media tour of the building, owned by the Sahota family's Waterfront Developments, Thursday organized by Acorn Canada.

New Westminster licensing manager Keith Coueffin said the city met with the owners on Friday and told to hire professionals by today (May 2) to fix the water damage issues and fire regulations, and to also do thorough assessments of the building's plumbing, elevator and pest control. Their reports will be due within seven working days, said Coueffin.

"We are continuing to do daily inspections to monitor the conditions of the property.

We will be following up to make sure they comply," said Coueffin of the building he calls the city's top bylaw enforcement priority.

For the last couple of weeks there's been a bucket brigade carting water across Cameron Street. The water pressure in the building has been so bad, tenants like Mary Cappell and Tanya Martin have been forced to trundle across the street to get their water from an outside tap on another building. For a while, they say, one suite on the second floor with decent water pressure was kept open for tenants to shower.

The water pipe problems have created a pungent odour that permeates the stairwells and hallways throughout the building which residents claim comes from the methane of the sewer water.

"Camping conditions are better than that," said Martin, who lives on the fifth floor.

Residents, with the help of Acorn (Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now) Canada, held a rally Thursday and invited the media to tour the block.

In March, the Sahotas were fined $115,000 for not fixing a leaky roof at an apartment complex in Surrey. In 2007, a roof on a building they owned in East Vancouver collapsed. Residents came away from that with a $170,000 settlement.

"I've had nothing but problems since I've been here," says Cappell, who is on disability and has been living at 1210 Cameron since February 2011. "It's actually embarrassing to say I live here."

Many of the residents, including herself, have complained about rodents running rampant. But Cappell says all the manager does is fill in the holes without doing anything to eradicate the problem.

She points to a large section of tile on the outside entrance that has been peeled away leaving a bumpy and slippery surface which she says led to a 71-year-old long-time resident recently stumbling and doing a face plant into the planters beside the entrance.

The smell is so bad, Cappell said, "I'm always using the Febreze," and her fridge "is so noisy it keeps me up at night ... It's so stressful. I'm so frustrated."

Dan Watson, who has been a plumber for 22 years and whose fiancee lives in the building, says he has offered to fix all the water issues for next to nothing but has been rebuffed. Instead, he claims, the job was done by unqualified workers and the water pressure is still just a trickle.

"There's not enough to wash their hands, not enough to take a shower," he said.

Watson and Acorn representatives say a lot of work had been done in the previous two days after the organization's rally and media tour plans were discovered. However, Watson said the work was mostly patchwork.

"What they're doing is putting on band-aids," says Watson pointing to a hallway ceiling panel with fresh white paint and tape around where the hole was. "You don't know what's on the other side of this patch. They just cover it up."

They say a fire door the city had ordered installed was put up just two days prior to the rally.

"They didn't care until the lights were about to be shining on here," says Watson.

Despite the recent work the hallways still have thin, faded and outdated-by-decades carpets that are stained by mud, mould and dirt. The elevator often doesn't work, and when it does it frequently isn't level with the hallway floor when the doors open.

"Over the years they have been a very serious problem from time to time," says Coueffin. "The current issues we are dealing with we became aware of a couple of weeks ago and have been following up with them. The property is our top bylaw enforcement priority."

Coueffin says multiple violations with fines ranging from $200 to $500 have been issued by the city over the last couple of weeks. He said every day an offence has occurred a fine is issued.

Acorn Canada spokesman Tom Page said the organization is demanding the province and municipal governments take action to improve enforcement of building standards.

"We are demanding changes in the residential tenancy act that will give some teeth so they are able to go in and do repairs," said Page, a New Westminster resident. "Without government action this type of thing will continue to go on. The tenant should not have to go on the news every time something is wrong. We need the provincial and municipal government to get tougher."

Page said the organization has asked for meetings with Housing Minister Rich Coleman and not had any response.

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