Twelve people in Hammond had to find a new home in a hurry with winter and nightfall approaching, after the Maple Ridge Fire Department evacuated the building they lived in Friday because of safety concerns.
The fire department ordered the emptying of the four-suite, 80-year-old building at 11293 – 113th Ave., after finding electrical meters had been removed and power bypasses hooked up.
“The issue for us was the building was without safe electrical connection. The Hydro has been disconnected from the building based on unsafe installation,” fire chief Dane Spence said Tuesday.
“The thing that made it immediate was the unsafe electrical and the fire alarm system.”
He said there was some allegations that some people didn’t have the right to be there, but Spence said his focus was on the safety of the building and the people residing there.
“In this case, I could not make it safe. It was not a safe situation.”
He sympathized with the tenants, but said it was his responsibility to ensure safety.
The owner of the building will have to bring the building up to code before people can re-occupy it.
Reg Hudon, former caretaker of the building, said the fire department was in too much of a hurry, given that B.C. Hydro crews were on their way to re-install the meters and complete electrical repairs.
“The [fire] chief came over to condemn the building. A half-hour later B.C. Hydro were coming to put back the meters.”
Some of the tenants that were booted out, took out their anger on the building and did further damage “just because they didn’t want to move.
“They’re all gone. I don’t know where they are,” he added.
“Some were afraid to offend the authorities, so they just took off right away.”
Kerry Fortney was one who had to leave. She and her boyfriend and her dog had been living there since September, paying $700 rent, utilities included. She had two hours to collect her belongings and get out.
“I liked living there. I didn’t think it was too bad.”
The trio have had to go to a friend’s house while they look for another place. But she’s already down $150 that she had to pay to put her belongings in storage.
Hudon said there were some issues with drugs at the building, but that it was in good condition.
“It may be old, he said, but “it’s a nice, cosy, warm building.”
Residents in two of the four suites, which rent for $700 a month for a one bedroom suite, were on income assistance.
A complicated domestic legal battle also surrounds the building.
Hudon is fighting a Residential Tenancy Branch order from June, evicting him from the caretaker suite. A judicial review of that takes place Dec. 16. However, on Oct. 24, he received a separate order giving him exclusive occupancy of the suite until the whole issue of the building’s ownership has been settled.
In January, he was terminated as the caretaker, but his lawyer disputes that and says he was a common law husband of the building’s owner. In September, a court order told him not to interfere with the tenants.
Hudon also made a claim on the ownership of the building. That’s yet to be set for trial.
But that’s not the issue, he says.
“The issue is these people have no place to go.”
“Don’t want to hurt anybody, but we want to let them know everybody has a right to a roof over their head, especially around Christmas and winter.”