More than a dozen low-income tenants have been evacuated from a slum condo building in Abbotsford after the owners consistently failed to maintain minimum safety requirements demanded by the city.
The last of the of 15 tenants at the Tessaro Villa - three children, nine women and three men - were relocated on Wednesday, said Abbotsford Fire Rescue Service Deputy Fire Chief Mike Hel-mer.
AFRS has been struggling since 2005 to get the owners of the three-storey, 12-unit building at 3412 Tessaro Crescent to maintain the fire safety system.
In addition to missing fire extinguishers and faulty fire alarms, emergency lighting and sprinklers, the building's common areas had piles of debris, filthy carpeting and graffiti or gaping holes in the walls.
Foul smelling stairwells with blood on the walls doubled as latrines and shooting galleries.
It's been difficult to get a response from the seven owners of the strata units as none live in the building, which also does not have a property manager or caretaker, said Helmer.
Most of the owners only have Vancouver addresses as their contact information.
In November, AFRS requested city council take action under the Community Charter to go in and make repairs and charge owners the costs as tax arrears.
However, when the city went in to make repairs the BC Safety Authority said the electrical system wouldn't support the fire safety system, so AFRS applied for an evacuation order on Jan. 9 to safeguard residents' safety.
Until tenants could be found other accommodations, a security guard was hired to conduct a constant fire watch, said Helmer.
It wasn't until the fire department informed owners they wouldn't be getting their tenants' welfare rent cheques that any of them took notice, said Helmer.
"We advised them we were shutting down the building and the Ministry of Social Development wouldn't be issuing any [rental] cheques after January," he said.
"That got their attention." A committee that included AFRS, Abbotsford Police, the Women's Resource Society of the Fraser Valley, Salvation Army and the Elizabeth Fry Society was formed to deal with the relocation of tenants, said Helmer.
"Residents were pretty cooperative . . . they ended up all over Abbotsford. A few are at the Salvation Army temporarily until they find a more permanent residence," he said.
The city had exhausted its avenues to keep the residents in the building, which continued to jeopardize their safety, Helmer said.
"Without cooperation of the property owners it was inevitable that the building would continue to deteriorate until it was completely unsafe for people to reside in the building any longer."
Tessaro Villa will remain vacant until the owners make all necessary repairs to meet all safety, building and health codes.
The city is looking to develop regulations that will prevent problems created by absentee landlords, said Helmer.
"We're looking to create a bylaw of some sort that will mandate absentee strata owners to have property management in place. Someone needs to manage the building."