Penticton officials are moving in to get tenants out of a boarding house they have deemed so unsafe it requires a municipal last resort: placing a notice on title.
Council unanimously agreed Monday night to suspend Winnipeg Manor’s business licence and file a notice on title after staff found the boarding home contravened a litany of city bylaws and provincial fire code regulations.
Ken Kunka, the city’s building and permitting manager, walked council through the 11-month saga of dealing with 597 Winnipeg St., after city building officials received a complaint last fall about construction underway at Winnipeg Manor without permits.
The house at 597 Winnipeg St. had been partially converted into a doctor’s office in the 1980s, but the City of Penticton granted a changed business licence to Daniel Isaac Holdings Ltd. on Jan. 15, 1998 to allow for an 11-room boarding house. On Dec. 16, 2005, however, the city closed Daniel Isaac’s business licence because the building was no longer used as a rooming house; instead, it was rented to one tenant only.
The house was then sold in September 2010 to Dennis Hildebrand, who currently owns the property.
On Sept. 27, 2010, city officials responded to the construction complaint by inspecting the property. They verified illegal construction was in progress, and staff gave a warning to cease work underway on the basement. A stop-work order for all construction was issued, until a permit could be obtained.
The city sent Hildebrand several letters on Jan. 19 and Feb. 28 that detailed deficiencies and possible solutions. On March 3, however, the fire inspector attended the house and noted several people living in the basement area, porch and storage rooms. A do-not-occupy order was placed on the house.
Follow-up inspections transpired on June 22 and July 19, and on both occasions, staff found at least five people living in the basement.
On Aug. 3, a final inspection was arranged with the owner. While inspectors found a portion of the basement had been boarded off, the kitchen was open for use by tenants and bylaw officers could not review all areas when the owner could not unlock some doors.
“The basement is still considered to be occupied,” Kunka said, noting how inspectors found beds and personal belongings in the basement.
He told council the owner had shown “resistance” in providing direction on how health and safety code issues would be resolved.
“There were electrical cords placed under rugs, which is a serious safety infraction,” Kunka said, citing problems with drainage, fire alarms and heating appliances. “The owner has also shown a disregard for city orders and the safety of his tenants by allowing for the occupancy of his basement.”
Coun. Garry Litke asked what types of fines had been levied against the owner. Kunka said fines have been calculated, but the owner is challenging the total in court. He clarified in a phone interview Tuesday that each offence could also be considered a daily occurrence, meaning the $150 to $200 fines for various infractions could compound over time.
Fire Chief Wayne Williams told council fire safety issues at boarding houses has become a concern for departments throughout the country in the last year, after three people died in a Vancouver fire days before Christmas and another five were killed in Winnipeg in July.
“We don’t want to see anyone get hurt,” Williams said.
Council unanimously approved the staff recommendation to file a Section 57 notice on the title of land, which advises interested parties — such as potential buyers or lenders — there are outstanding issues on the property. They also voted to suspend the boarding home business licence and have residents relocated by the owner until the house is brought up to code.
“In my whole career on council, I’ve never seen it come to this point,” Mayor Dan Ashton said.
Hildebrand said Tuesday that he figures the city is targeting him after the shed behind Pine Lodge – his other house on Ellis Street – was found burning and spread to the house. It had been home to 14 people, some of whom relocated to Winnipeg Manor.
“I moved some of the guys over there from Ellis Street over to my house during February when it was really cold because they lost their house,” he said, adding the city showed up at the Winnipeg Street house shortly after. “They did an inspection and said, ‘Oh, you have way too many people.’ I had to do what I could to find them homes.
“Ever since then, they’ve been on me saying, ‘Well, this isn’t safe, that isn’t safe.’ I’ve been doing a whole bunch of improvements to make it safe, but they’ve been doing nothing but bug me.”
Hildebrand said he takes in homeless people he comes across in his line of work as a nurse.
“Some of these people don’t pay me rent. I just take them in and give them a place to live,” he said, adding that he dismisses those who might say he is exploiting renters down on their luck.
“What I would say to anyone who calls me a slum landlord would be to take somebody off the street and let them live in your house and take care of them and feed them and don’t ask for a thing. That’s the kind of thing I do a lot.”
He said he plans to put a recreation room downstairs, “and if I do that, everything should be resolved.”
Hildebrand’s challenge of fines is scheduled to be heard in court on Thursday.