The fight against bad landlords and managers

Below is a good read from the Pivot Legal Society, highlighting a victory for residents in the Wonder Rooms and Palace SRO hotels against their former landlord George Wosley.


This past week marks a pivotal moment in the long struggle by residents and formers residents of the Wonder Rooms and Palace SRO hotels. The journey is not over yet, but securing 10 warrants for George Wolsey, former landlord, is a huge win in what seems like an unending struggle. In fact, until I took over the litigation on this file, I could never have appreciated the magnitude of last week’s victory.

When I was in law school, if someone had told me that being a lawyer would involve chasing a ghost all over the Lower Mainland- finding addresses for service that are actually empty store fronts, taking carloads of interns with bouquets of flowers out to residential properties in hopes of coaxing someone to the door, and checking to see if the resident Rottweiler is outside wandering the property – I would have said that is the stuff of fiction. The reality is, I have done all of this as part of the effort to hold this particularly slippery landlord to account. I have only been at it for 4 months, the affected residents, on the other hand, have been in this fight for years.

Residents have spent years speaking out about the conditions in two of the Downtown Eastside’s worst SRO hotels. They have remained united, endured threats and persevered even though their former landlord, George Wolsey, has done everything in his power to avoid taking responsibility for his actions. That kind of unity and strength of conviction is rare in any circumstance, and is nothing short of commendable when you consider how long and hard a struggle this has been.

We went to court last week to enforce over $18,000 in damages that Wolsey owes his former tenants. Our goal was to secure an order detailing exactly how and when Wolsey would pay his debts. Once again however, George Wolsey failed to attend court. Warrants were issued for his arrest. One for each of the 10 low-income people who have been waiting and waiting to be paid what they are owed for the suffering they endured as residents of Wolsey’s hotels.

You may have seen the wanted poster we released on Wednesday and you may be wondering “why a wanted poster?” A wanted poster sends two very clear messages. First, and most obviously, it sends a message to Mr. Wolsey and other landlords that you cannot disregard the rights, safety and dignity of people who rent from you and expect to get away with it. Second, and very importantly, it says that residents of the DTES remain strong in their conviction to fight for adequate housing. They will not be deterred by threats, they will not be deterred by landlords who evade the justice system, and they will succeed in their efforts.

Even though Wolsey no longer owns the buildings in question and many of the tenants have moved on, the threat they face in standing up for their rights remains real. On the morning the wanted poster was a released, one former resident who had intended to speak to the press informed us that she could not come. She said a man approached her on the street and told her not to speak out; things ‘happen’ to people who speak out against their landlords.

Threats like this are all the more reason to keep fighting bad landlords and managers. Residents deserve to be treated with respect and they deserve to feel safe in their homes and in standing up for their rights.