Exterior of Highland Manor shows at least one broken window, covered with a blanket. (Zoe Ducklow/News Staff)

Exterior of Highland Manor shows at least one broken window, covered with a blanket. (Zoe Ducklow/News Staff)

Reclaiming blighted Vancouver Island apartment complex requires more than paint

Improvements to Port Hardy’s troubled Highland Manor are slow and stuck in red tape

The new owners of a troubled Port Hardy apartment complex are making some progress toward improving safety and living conditions as promised.

But improvements are sometimes undone within hours, leaving tenants wondering if things will indeed get better.

Greg Vance, who bought the Highland Manor building with business partner Mario Morrison in February, said their first priority was to get up to fire code. Port Hardy council had ordered the former owner to fix several fire hazards, but many were left incomplete.

Tenants haven’t had working laundry machines for months, since a New Year’s fire put the laundry room out of commission. On March 30, Vance got access to hold back funds from the sale of the building to complete certain repairs the former owner was supposed to do.

It’s welcome news for tenants who have been stocking up on extra clothes because they can’t afford a taxi to the town’s only laundromat, but Vance still couldn’t give a time frame since they don’t know how much damage needs to be repaired in the burnt-out laundry.

Non-functioning fire panels and heat sensors have been replaced, along with faulty wiring. Auto-closing door mechanisms were installed on fire exits — twice.

“The people who traffic drugs in the building want that door to be open so their clients can enter easily and walk up the stairs and go to their suite without having to bug them. So we have twice replaced the closers, and in both cases within hours the closers have been removed and the door is propped open again,” Vance said.

RELATED: Infamous Highland Manor sold to Creekside owners

“You can’t believe it, but you are almost powerless to stop someone. It’s so clear there is egregious trafficking going on in the building, yet the police and authorities can’t seem to address it.

“It’s very frustrating to me as a property owner that people can be so obviously trafficking drugs out of my building without any consequence. Especially when you consider the direct effect it’s having on the community.”

About 10 eviction notices had been issued before Vance and Morrison took over, mostly for non-payment of rent, but they weren’t followed. A few people have since moved out, but some are still refusing to leave.

The District of Port Hardy doesn’t have jurisdiction, nor do the RCMP. To schedule a sheriff who can enforce eviction orders, landlords need to book their services months in advance from down Island.

“There are some good people in that building, who we want to make sure they are taken care of… With that said, there are some people there who need to leave, who are creating both safety, and honestly, behavioural issues to others. Whether it’s fighting, or intoxication, drug abuse, or misconduct or noise.”

Repairs to the building have taken a lot of work, after months of neglect.

“There were some horrendous leaks and drain blockages,” Vance said, adding that they’re close to filling a fourth commercial-size bin of garbage from vacant suites., including amaged appliances, rotten flooring, moldy cabinetry and left behind furniture.

It’s hard to find a view of the building where broken windows aren’t visible.

READ MORE: True extent of homelessness on North Island unknown

In March, an unauthorized extension cord plugged into a hallway outlet caught fire, but since the carpets had been removed, there was nothing else to catch fire so damage was limited. Since then, hallway outlets have been deactivated.

The extension cords are used by some tenants who have been cut off from BC Hydro, to borrow power from the hallway or a neighbour to get heat, or power a toaster.

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READ MORE: Late night fire at Highland Manor caused evacuation, but no injuries

Housing

 

A leaking hot water pipe had been poorly repaired, and was still dripping hot water. It’s on the list to be fixed now. (Zoe Ducklow/News Staff)

A leaking hot water pipe had been poorly repaired, and was still dripping hot water. It’s on the list to be fixed now. (Zoe Ducklow/News Staff)

Carpetless unfinished hallways look awful, but at least there’s less fire hazard. (Zoe Ducklow/News Staff)

Carpetless unfinished hallways look awful, but at least there’s less fire hazard. (Zoe Ducklow/News Staff)

A fire damaged the laundry room Dec. 30, 2020, and as of April 1, 2021 had yet to be repaired. (Zoe Ducklow/News Staff)

A fire damaged the laundry room Dec. 30, 2020, and as of April 1, 2021 had yet to be repaired. (Zoe Ducklow/News Staff)

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