About half the residents of the Regal Hotel in Vancouver were bracing for a fourth consecutive night without heat Tuesday with the outside temperature and wind chill values expected to drop to –20 C in the city.
The heat first went out at the single resident occupancy (SRO) hotel on Christmas Day, according to multiple sources, leaving many vulnerable tenants suffering in the bitter cold.
On Tuesday afternoon, a person who lives and works at the Regal Hotel told CBC some repairs had been made, but that heat was coming back for only half of the 80 units in the 110-year-old building at 1046 Granville Street.
“I’m scared for the other residents,” said the person. “A lot of people don’t really want to say anything because they’ve been asked not to.”
Victoria Desroches has a friend who lives at the Regal Hotel and is recovering from major surgery. She said another night of freezing temperatures could prove fatal for him.
“I’m terrified,” she said. “He’s not a young man.
“And just to dispel some of the typical myths, he’s not someone who’s a drug abuser, he’s just a man on disability … He pays $750 for a room with no bathroom and he just needs to get well. How do you do that when it’s below zero and you have no heat?”
The Regal Hotel is owned by the Sahota family, notorious for operating decrepit SROs in Vancouver.
Desrochers said a City of Vancouver staffer confirmed that city officials knew about the Regal Hotel heat problem on Christmas Day, but that no action was taken until Dec. 27, after she began contacting media outlets with the story.
She said given the Sahota’s record, city officials should have acted sooner.
“The property owner is ultimately responsible, but they have a history of non-compliance to the point of dereliction,” said Desrochers. “Absolutely nothing was done even when [the city] knew there was a problem … until the media stepped up and asked the city, why not?”
CBC was unable to reach the Sahota family for comment.
In a written statement, the City of Vancouver said its inspections group became aware of the problem on Dec. 27 and followed up immediately.
“Our understanding is there was an issue earlier over the holidays, which building management attempted to resolve, but the problem had reoccurred. Our latest information is that heat has been restored to the building.”
The statement said the city’s chief building official and assistant manager of electrical inspections would be at the Regal Hotel SRO at some point on Tuesday “to assess the situation and ensure the owner is in compliance with the Standards of Maintenance Bylaw.”
Desrochers said the Vancouver charity Blanket B.C. delivered a van full of blankets to residents on Tuesday after hearing about their plight on the news.
“If concerned citizens can respond with that kind of empathy and care, can’t people in authority demonstrate the same character?” she asked.
The Regal Hotel has 23 outstanding safety, maintenance and fire bylaw violations, according to a City of Vancouver database.
Two Sahota-owned Downtown Eastside SROs — the Balmoral and Regent hotels — were shut down by the city in 2017 and 2018 respectively due to dangerous and unsanitary conditions.
In 2019, city council approved expropriating the two buildings for $1 each, but after a legal challenge the city ended up paying $11.5 million for the properties.