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New West tackles ‘horror show’ house

New Westminster city council is sensitive to the needs of a property owner and a “night watchman” living in a Brow of the Hill home, but is deeply concerned about health and safety issues related to the house.
509 house
A hazard? City council is grappling with how to deal with a property at 509 11th St. that’s raised concerns about its appearance and safety. The city has laid out steps the property owner must take to address safety concerns.

New Westminster city council is sensitive to the needs of a property owner and a “night watchman” living in a Brow of the Hill home, but is deeply concerned about health and safety issues related to the house.

City officials have identified numerous health and safety issues related to the outside and inside of the house at 509 11th St. The city states there is no furnace in the house and scaffolding has surrounded it for years. There is also stagnant water in the basement, black mould in the wood framing in the basement, broken windows, a collapsing ceiling in the hallway on the main floor and openings in the house that allow “raccoons and other vermin” to get inside.

“Staff are asking council to impose a remedial action requirement on the owner, Mr. James Bell, requiring him to either conduct repairs to his building or to demolish the building,” said Kim Deighton, the city’s manager of licensing and integrated services. “Section 72 of the Community Charter gives council the authority to impose remedial action requirements if one of the following conditions apply: hazardous conditions or declared nuisances. Staff believes the property in question meets both of those criteria.”

Christy Meriegh, manager of building inspections, said city officials have had limited access to the interior of the house but believe the house is in very poor condition and is in violation of the B.C. Building Code.

“The building contains multiple hazardous conditions making it unsafe for occupancy,” he said. “The hazardous conditions may also affect the safety of adjacent dwellings.”

At Monday’s council meeting, staff outlined concerns about the house, and the property owner, James William Bell, was given a chance to address the city’s concerns.

Bell, who lives in the house next door, told council the city’s report was filled with inconsistencies and untruths. He said the home doesn’t have any broken pipes or black mould, alleged the water in the house is coming from a neighbour’s property and insisted the scaffolding is safe.

“I don’t feel that there is any hazard with what I am doing,” he said. “I was just up there today doing some work. I will be up there tomorrow and the next day and continue on with what I am doing. I hope you consider this very carefully because it’s affecting my night watchman who is living there. He doesn’t have anywhere else to go right now.”

A “night watchman,” who has lived in the house for seven years and does not pay rent, sat in the gallery at council chambers, yelling out comments during the discussion that lasted for nearly two hours.

“You are not concerned about my health, my safety,” he shouted. “You are trying to take my place of residence away, where I live in. You are not concerned about my safety. It’s just lies.”

Mayor Jonathan Cote is concerned about Bell’s ability and willingness to rectify the issue. He said he’s also concerned about the man’s safety in the house, noting he would be on the brink of homelessness without these accommodations.

Coun. Bill Harper said the city has a responsibility under its bylaws to ensure these types of safety issues don’t exist in homes in the city. He said the scaffolding is “problematic” and the house is without a furnace.

“The last thing I would want to see happen is that your night watchperson dies in a fire caused by an electric heater,” he said.

Harper said the issues with the house have gone on for a long time and need to be resolved.

Bell said financial issues and time restraints have impacted his ability to get the work done quicker, but he’s working on the property every day.

“The issues are minor,” he said. “They can be dealt with.”

Coun. Mary Trentadue said she isn’t hopeful much will change with the property in 60 days and stressed the city needs to make sure the property is safe.

“I don’t want to be the councillor at the table when something happens because we did nothing,” she said. “I do believe the city has been working on it for five years with the owner, Mr. Bell, and I can appreciate that you have had some challenges. The reality is you are responsible for who is living in that home and their safety. And this house is not safe. And it concerns me that you don’t seem to see that, that you believe many of the issues are minor. I disagree.”

Action can’t come quick enough for some of the neighbours, who have contacted city hall numerous times to voice concerns.

“It’s a horror show,” said a neighbour, who recently spoke to the Record on the condition of anonymity. “Unsightly doesn’t really say enough. You won’t believe it when you see it. It’s got to be a death trap; it has to be.”

Derelict hosue 509 11th Street
Neighbours of a property at 509 11th St. have contacted city hall numerous times in recent years to voice concerns about the derelict house. Photo by Jennifer Gauthier

What are the problems?

On Monday, council received a staff report and a presentation outlining the various health and safety concerns about the house at 509 11th St. These include:

  • The basement is prone to accumulate a substantial amount of stagnant water, which is likely the result of a broken storm water and/or sewer piece outside and within the house.
  • The wood framing in the basement is exposed to excessive moisture and is infested with black mould.
  • The basement and the main floor of the house have broken windows, with glass shards protruding from the window frame.
  • The ceiling for the interior hallways on the main floor of the house is water damaged and collapsing.
  • The top floor windows are missing glass panes or shutters, and are not protecting the interior structural wood framing from the elements.
  • Openings on the top floor allow raccoons and other vermin to enter the house.
  • The house is surrounded by unsafe scaffolding that has been in place for more than five years.
  • The paint is peeling off the siding on the top storey of the house and the stucco on the main storey is suffering from extensive water damage.
  • The roof of the house is in significant disrepair and has been tarped for years.
  • The garagebehind the house has graffiti on it.
  • The house is an unlicensed rental property occupied by one tenant and does not meet minimum maintenance standards as prescribed under the city’s business regulations and licensing (rental units) bylaw.

What does the city plan to do to address the problem home?

Here’s what the city decided to do to address the many problems it has found with the home at 509 11th St.

  • The city is giving the property owner 60 days to remove the scaffolding and graffiti on the garage.
  • The city is giving the owner 60 days to apply for building permits to remediate or demolish the house.
  • The city is giving the owner 150 days to fulfill the remedial action requirements.  Remedial work that must be done to the house includes: repairing or replacing external drainage and the internal sanitary drainage system; repairing or replacing missing or deteriorated wood framing; repairing or replacing the furnace; removing broken glass from window frames on the ground floor of the house and installing new windows; sealing the house to prevent the intrusion of vermin; repairing and replacing the siding, stucco and soffits; repairing the interior hallway ceiling on the main floor; removing the tarp from the top of the house; and replacing the roof.
  • Council also approved motions directing staff to work with the tenant and assist in relocating the tenant elsewhere if needed, and to work with social agencies to assist the occupant in relocating and to identify an outside agency to assist the owner.