Vacant hotel fire highlights the need for better safety regulation, building inspector


WATCH: While the cause of the Plaza Hotel fire is under investigation, the fact that it stood empty for years has many experts concerned. And as Kori Sidaway tells us, home inspectors are calling for tougher rules and better security for other vacant buildings in the city.

On Monday, an inferno quickly ripped through the four storeys of the Plaza Hotel.

The building had been sitting abandoned for six years, and this recent fire has some saying there’s not enough being done to keep the city’s vacant buildings, safe.

“We gotta be checking in on these things for sure. At least once a year just to have someone go through these buildings,” said Marty Erletz who owns Pillar to Post Home Inspections.

The Plaza Hotel isn’t the only vacant building in the Greater Victoria area to go down in a blaze.

In 2014, a Cook Street building condemned by the city and left abandoned for 10 years caught ablaze. No one was there to check on it, even though the neighbourhood had been worried about the building for years.

More recently in 2018, an Oak Bay house that had been left abandoned with no power or natural gas caught fire for the second time.

“The biggest problem with vacant and abandoned buildings is that if we’re not doing quality checks on them,” said Erletz.

Ultimately it’s up to the owners of the property to keep vacant building’s (defined as being empty for 30 days or longer), secure with barriers, fences, and alarms. The city of Victoria keeps open files on every abandoned property in the city, conducting monthly security inspections. The fire department and police coordinate their own safety inspections.

“There is a lot of eyes on these properties,” said Victoria Fire Chief Paul Bruce.

“We do the best with the resources we have ultimately we do the best with trying to balance our staffing, the inspection frequency, the risk, everything else.”

But the Victoria the abandoned property bylaw doesn’t require annual structural inspections.

Something those at BC’s Home Inspection Association say is needed.

“I think probably to begin with we have to have a check just to find out the condition of the home when it’s been left vacant, to find out if there are any ongoing problems that need to be corrected so they don’t become worse,” said Bob Hamm, President of the Home Inspectors Association of BC (HIABC).

As of right now, there are no provincial-wide vacant building safety requirements. Those bylaws vary from municipality to municipality, something the HIABC is looking to change.

“This is the first time someone is asked be about abandoned buildings,” said Hamm.

“The board is probably going to have a discussion about inspections like that. How often should it be done? And what should that type of inspection encompass.”

Moving ahead, HIABC is looking into lobbying the province to make mandatory structural vacant building assessments.

Kori SidawayKori Sidaway

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