The Record: New Westminster tenants protest living conditions

Tenants of a rental building in New Westminster are rallying against appalling living conditions.

ACORN Canada organized a rally at 1210 Cameron St. on Thursday to highlight tenants' living conditions, which include mold, mice and a foul stench caused by a sewage leak.

"My cat has caught some mice - about three or four," said tenant Mary Cappell. "It's very stressful."

According to ACORN Canada, the apartment's owner was recently fined $115,000 under the Residential Tenancy Act for failing to fix leaks at a Surrey building.

Don Watson, a member of ACORN, said the owners had a lot of repairs done in the past few days. Crews have painted over mold and graffiti, cleaning carpets in one hallway and made some plumbing repairs.

"They knew a bunch of folks were coming," he said of the rally. "They knew the media were coming."

Although a doorway was left open all day Wednesday, a stench still filled the air on Thursday afternoon.

"It's usually worse than this," Watson said. "It's the sewer gas. This thing backs up like crazy."

A ceiling in a first floor hallway is freshly patched, but ACORN photos show that it was a gaping hole just days earlier. Below the hole that was the result of plumbing issues, a garbage can collected water from the pipes above.

Watson said the fruit flies buzzing around in a hallway are there because of moisture from the leaks.

Watson, whose fiance pays $695 for a one-bedroom suite, said the apartment's conditions are appalling, but people do what they have to do.

"Poor folks aint got a lot of options," he said. "It's easy to get poor but it's hard to get out of poor."

ACRORN Canada said the Cameron Street tenants have been struggling with poor building conditions for years. They planned the rally when the building was without running water for a week.

Keith Coueffin, the City of New Westminster's manager of licensing and integrated services, said city hall has received concerns about a number of maintenance issues in the building in the past week to 10 days.

"The primary concern is the lack of hot and cold water throughout the building, the systems not being repaired promptly and properly, and numerous leaks throughout the building," he said.

Concerns have also been raised about issues related to fire safety, maintenance of common areas, and other deficiencies.

"This is a top priority for bylaw enforcement," Coueffin said. "There have been multiple inspections."

In addition to daily visits from the bylaw inspector, he said the city is following up in an integrated manner. Bylaw inspector, fire inspector, health inspector sand bylaw officers are working on the file.

"Orders are being processed with respect to the deficiencies," he said. "In addition, fines are being processed to the multiple violations of maintenance deficiencies in the building."

Coueffin said the city has had a number of communications with the owners and had a meeting scheduled with them on April 27. The meeting was being held to discuss the orders and a compliance plan.

According to Coueffin, the city will be following up with the owners until the issues are resolved.

"We will be committing all our enforcement options available if the concerns are not resolved properly in a timely manner," he said.

Coueffin said the city's orders will require the owners to retain a qualified professional to repair all water damage in the building, to assess and repair all plumbing systems, to repair the elevator that's in disrepair and to deal with a fruit fly infestation.

Despite the City of New Westminster's "best efforts," ACORN Canada believes the owners have shown complete disregard for the average renters. The group is calling on the provincial government to amend the Residential Tenancy Act and bring criminal charges against negligent landlords so citizens are protected.