A Vancouver developer has five months to make substantial renovations to an unsafe building on Lynn Valley Road in the District of North Vancouver.
Calling Dovercourt House "an embarrassment" and "a fire trap," council voted unanimously to order the upgrades at a council meeting Monday. The 100-year-old building needs an electrical assessment, fire stairs and automatic sprinklers.
If the work is not completed within the time allotted, district staff could finish the upgrades at the owner's expense.
The owners, Ghalib Rawji and Azim Sarangi, have 35 days to present a plan for renovation, followed by 120 days to complete the work.
An independent examination of the building found jammed basement doors, a fire test label that had been painted over, a cracked window and narrow hallways.
"Everything asked in this report is something we intend to do," said Rawji, who added that he expected the renovation budget to fall between $200,000 and $250,000.
Rawji, a developer best known for taking over single resident occupancy hotels in the Downtown Eastside, said the loss of federal funding grants has caused a lengthy delay in upgrading the building. Dovercourt currently houses 10 tenants who pay as little as $300 a month in rent.
A remedial action order will further slow the process of securing financing and repairing the building, according to Rawji.
"I don't see how an order from council can slow down anything," disagreed Coun. Lisa Muri.
Muri said she was overwhelmed by the building's myriad problems, including fire safety issues and possibly dangerous wiring.
"I'm so concerned with the photos I've seen in this report I can't believe it," she said. Muri noted that very little work had been done in the three years Rawji has owned the property. "Ultimately this is coming down to money or the lack thereof," Muri said.
The building could be more profitable if torn down and turned into a home or a more upscale apartment building, according to Rawji. "It's viable to increase rents almost 100 per cent at this building. We don't want to do that," Rawji said.
Coun. Mike Little supported Rawji for his altruistic intentions, but added that the same arguments used by Rawji have been abused by less scrupulous building owners.
Dovercourt's tenants should be removed from a dangerous situation, according to Coun. Alan Nixon. "Why is this property still occupied?" he asked. "I would like this building declared uninhabitable and condemned."
Coun. Roger Bassam opposed Nixon's move to have the building condemned.
"We have to respect our heritage properties," he said, adding that he would like to see the district get more involved in the renovations. "I would be more than willing to have the district do the work," he said.
Bassam was one of several councillors who criticized the owners for the state of the building. "There's very minimal maintenance being done," Bassam said.
Dealing with the owners may prove a waste of council's time, according to Bassam.
"I am concerned . . . this is going to be a long, drawn out process, and ultimately this is an economic issue."
The district's complaints are largely unexpected, according to Rawji. "We have no knowledge of this being such an issue," Rawji said, citing his record of compliance with district inspections.
"This is not a surprise," countered Coun. Doug MacKay-Dunn. "It's a fire trap. It has to be fixed."
"It reminded me of when I was walking the beat in the Downtown Eastside," said the former Vancouver Police Department officer.
MacKay-Dunn also noted that the North Shore homeless outreach workers have elected not to place homeless people at Dovercourt House due to safety concerns.
While many of the building's 10 tenants would likely be happy to stay in the building, Mayor Richard Walton said the council had to deal with other priorities.
"We have to respond to different standards and social pressures," he said.