The head of Coquitlam-based Bulldog Demolition is suing the owner of the Plaza 500 Hotel on West 12th Avenue at Cambie for $2 million.
Jim Caya is seeking $1 million he says are still owed in wages and supplies and a second million for damages.
Caya said Azim Popat hired his company in February 2011 to remove 180 bathrooms and perform general cleanup, including carpet removal. At the time, it was announced the Plaza 500, located across the road from Vancouver city hall, would join the Indigo hotel chain.
"But the first day on the site, in order to remove the carpets we had to remove the baseboards and that's when we spotted the mould. The drywall was completely black with it," Caya told the Courier. "And they had guests staying at the hotel right up until then. I'm surprised no one got sick."
He said at that time, Popat, who did not return the Courier's phonecalls, was forced to hire Pacific Environmental Consulting to do an environmental assessment as required by WorkSafeBC. (Norman Richardson, senior operations manager with Total Safety Services, which owns Pacific Environmental Consulting, told the Courier he's unable to comment on client cases.)
"They immediately wrote up an order saying that anyone entering the building had to wear a hazmat suit and a mask," said Caya. "The density of the mould was so bad that even non-hazardous jobs like carpet removal became hazardous. And that's when the costs went up."
Caya said what started out as a $488,000 job escalated to $3 million over time as the company completed numerous projects. He said Popat stopped paying halfway through the project. He said after Bulldog placed a $1.5 million lien against the property, Popat called a meeting with Caya and the Canadian Western Bank, which was financing the project at the time. Caya said in order to remove the lien, the bank paid the overdue amount to Bulldog and the company went back to work.
"And we haven't been paid since," said Caya.
Caya's lawyer, Suzan El Khatib with Wiebe Douvelos Wittmann, explained Popat has placed $800,000 in trust with the courts. Once a decision is made on the case, which is scheduled for February 2014, that money will go to either the plaintiff or defendant.
Caya is not alone. According to cases filed in B.C. Supreme Court, Plaza 500 Hotels Ltd. is named in 39 lawsuits starting from 1996, with 16 dated between 2011 and 2012.
Last week Nancy Eng, communications coordinator for the City of Vancouver, confirmed an application by development consultant Brook Pooni Associates on behalf of Plaza 500 to convert floors three to 17 of the hotel into rental units had been approved by the city subject to conditions. This week, the city told the Courier it is not aware of any complaints regarding the condition of the building, which would be evaluated during the building permit application stage.
Caya suggested the city take a very close look at the building. He said as a way to save money, Bulldog was directed to cover the asbestos in the hotel with steel bars, to which drywall would later be attached. He said a structural engineer halted the project because it was deemed the building wouldn't stand under the weight.
"If they allow people to live in that building and it goes down in an earthquake, not only will it be a tragedy for those people, but the asbestos dust will contaminate that entire neighbourhood," said Caya. "Even the mayor at city hall would end up with asbestos dust in his lungs."