Province says business tenants can end leases at hotels it bought for homeless

Business tenants in hotels recently purchased to house homeless people are free to end their leases if they wish, says B.C.’s housing minister.

Selena Robinson took issue Wednesday with statements by Liberal MLA Peter Milobar, of Kamloops-North Thompson, who said in the legislature that B.C. Housing was refusing to allow two Victoria businesses to break their leases and called for them to be compensated.

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The province bought hotels in Victoria and Vancouver in recent months to serve as supportive housing for people without homes. The goal is to try to protect vulnerable citizens camping outdoors from the COVID-19 and to help fight the opioid overdose crisis in B.C.

Issues have arisen around the impact on businesses that have been renting space in these hotels.

All About Hue Hair Designs had been located in the former Comfort Inn on Blanshard Street, where 65 members of the street community are now living. Lindsay Price, hair salon owner, said her reopening plans were stymied by water damage resulting from a fire above her space, shortly after campers were moved into the building.

Clients cancelled when they heard about the hotel sale, she said. Price is working from home at the moment and is planning to move into Admirals Walk shopping centre in August.

Clif Leir, who owns Paul’s Diner by Fol Epi, at Paul’s Motor Inn on Douglas Street, said he does not know if his business will survive. The province purchased Paul’s after it began renting rooms there for campers.

The restaurant has not reopened since closing because of the pandemic.

Milobar asked Robinson how she is going to fix the situation. “These businesses lease space in these hotels, and B.C. Housing is refusing to allow them to break their lease,” he said. He also claimed that B.C. Housing’s refusal to allow them to leave is “bankrupting them.”

But Robinson said that the tenants are welcome to stay or leave. “If these tenants feel that they cannot sustain their business or work with B.C. Housing, we’re absolutely prepared to work with them to create a transition for them.”

She said in a later statement that the Opposition’s comments were false. “B.C. Housing does not hold anyone to a lease they don’t want to be in.”

Some tenants have chosen to remain, such as the restaurant in the recently purchased Buchan hotel in Vancouver, she said.

At Paul’s, one business has already terminated its lease and left, another has chosen to stay and a third has indicated they will be leaving and are free to do so at any time, she said.

She made no reference to compensation.

Some Victoria businesses located near hotels housing the homeless are spending money buying security cameras and hiring security guards. They say that vandalism, drug use and trespassing has been rising, prompting customers to shop elsewhere.

cjwilson@timescolonist.com

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