Court backs tenants but payment in doubt

After winning their two-year legal fight, low-income former tenants of an East Vancouver apartment building doubt they’ll ever get the landlord to pay the 170,000 in damages he owes them.

Tenants at 2131 Pandora St. were given only a few hours to move out after heavy rains caused floods in mid-October 2007.

On Wednesday, a B.C. Supreme Court judge upheld the Residential Tenancy Branch decision last year to compensate 36 tenants.

The three-storey woodframe building is owned by landlord Gurdyal Sahota, who also owns a number of Downtown Eastside hotels, such as the Astoria, Balmoral and Cobalt.

“I would like them to do the right thing and pay us what they owe us,” said Roberta Dixon, a Pandora tenant for 10 years, who had water leaking into her suite for six of them.

Dixon lost all her belongings when she had to evacuate the building.

“It was a disaster,” said her longtime roommate Frank Sowers.

The leak started with a hole in the ceiling the size of a finger, he said.

“At the end, it was coming through the chandeliers.”

They’re both now living in a B.C. Housing complex.

“They should be man enough to pay their debts,” said Sowers.

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The tenants’ lawyer, Sarah Khan of the B.C. Public Interest Advocacy Centre, said the judge found Sahota showed

reckless disregard” for the tenants.

“It’s the largest damage award that has been ordered for a group of tenants in these circumstances,” said Khan, speaking Thursday at the centre’s Vancouver office.

“This sends a really good, loud-and-clear message to landlords to take care of their buildings and not let them fall into such a state of disrepair.”

Sahota’s lawyer, Derek Creighton, said he’s disappointed with the ruling and doesn’t yet know if it will be appealed.

“They haven’t advised me as to whether they intend to appeal it,” he said.

“The Sahotas will abide by the orders of the lower court, if they don’t appeal.”

Sahota is currently suing an insurance company for nonpayment of the repair costs, estimated at $1 million. The building remains closed.

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