British Columbia

Kelowna senior evicted as city prepares to demolish his home

A Kelowna senior has been removed from his home as the City of Kelowna begins work to demolish the house due to multiple unpermitted renovations they say have made the property unsafe and unsightly.

City says multiple unapproved renovations have made home unsafe and unsightly

A Kelowna senior stands in front of a pile of possessions in front of his home that is about to be demolised
Janusz Grelecki has been sleeping in his truck outside his property beside a large pile of possessions he removed from his home before the city evicted him from the house on Tuesday. (Brady Strachan/CBC)

Janusz Grelecki has spent the last two nights sleeping in his truck beside a large pile of his possessions and building materials, after the City of Kelowna ordered the 73-year-old out of the home he has lived in for the past decade and a half.

The eviction on Tuesday was the culmination of an eight-year battle between Grelecki and the city over the state of his property and the multiple unpermitted renovation projects the city says have made it unsafe and unsightly.

"I don't have a place to go now. I try to catch up in my head what I do now, where I stay because I don't have a shower, no water, no shave," Grelecki said from the street outside his home, which is now surrounded by blue construction fencing.

"If I go behind fence, they arrest me. It is like mafia. I have 5,000 pounds of meat in my freezer. Now, access is shut down."

WATCH | Kelowna man prepares for eviction and demolition of home: 

Kelowna senior faces home demolition

2 months ago
Duration 2:57
A senior in Kelowna, B.C., is facing the imminent demolition of the home he has lived in for more than a decade. The City of Kelowna says this comes after years of trying to work with the owner over his building code violations, which it says have made the property unsafe and unsightly.

Behind the fence, Grelecki's two-storey home is in a state of ongoing construction with a large unfinished deck and a retaining wall with several pieces of rebar sticking out of it. 

Last week the city notified Grelecki of its plans to enforce a demolition order that city council approved in 2021.

A report to council at the time describes the house and retaining walls on the property as unsafe and cites multiple renovations that do not comply with the B.C. Building Code.

Bylaw officers repeatedly visited home

Bylaw officers made two dozen visits to the home on the edge of Kelowna's Rutland neighbourhood over a period of 10 years to deal with complaints about the unsightly property, construction noise, and solid waste storage, the report says.

"Multiple enforcement actions and compliance efforts have been made between 2010 and the present to attempt to have the owner bring and have the property remain in compliance," the report reads.

A photo of a weathered two story home on a Kelowna street with piles of building materials and a truck in front loaded with construction equipment.
The City of Kelowna is enforcing an order to demolish the home at 424 Gibson Road, citing multiple B.C. Building Code violations that make the home unsafe and a nuisance. (Brady Strachan/CBC)

Grelecki, who immigrated to Canada from Poland over three decades ago, has spent the past three years fighting the demolition order, filing two civil lawsuits against the city and a recent application for an injunction to stop his home being torn down.

"I no give up. The city now thinking I am weak guy, so I try to show them wrong," he said.

"The house is intact. So what is the problem? Engineer, lawyer, everybody no have a clue why house [needs a] demolition."

Engineering firm disputes city's claims

A March 26 report from Elemental Structural Engineers, a company Grelecki hired to assess his property, disputes the city's claims.

"There are currently no significant defects inside the building that would give rise to any serious safety concerns," the report states.

The property requires "significant work" to comply with the building code, the report concludes, but "the full demolition of the structure and the concrete walls is not warranted based on the alleged safety/hazard concerns alone."

The city maintains the report does not address all the issues with the property. 

The City of Kelowna did not agree to an interview about the case, but provided CBC News with a long list of its dealings with Grelecki from 2010 to present. Over that time the city opened 17 files related to the property for unsightly premises, building bylaw issues, nuisance complaints and property standard infractions, according to the document.

The report lists involvement from the fire department, the B.C. Safety Authority, the RCMP, mental health nurses and city inspectors to deal with issues related to the property.

A 73-year-old man stands in his back yard on a cloudy day with hills in the distance. He is standing in a cluttered yard with a lot of construction material around him.
Grelecki has been living in the home since the city declared it unsafe in 2021. He maintains the home is structurally sound. (Brady Strachan/CBC)

As for the recent lawsuit and bid to seek a court injunction, "the application is essentially the same as the one previously dismissed by the court. With no injunction in place and the low likelihood of one being successful, the decision was to go ahead," a city spokesperson wrote in an email. 

"He has had eight years to make alternate arrangements."

In a letter to Grelecki last week announcing the demolition, city manager Mike Kapiniak offered to provide referrals for service agencies to assist in providing housing. 

"All costs incurred by the City of Kelowna resulting from undertaking the work required to comply with the remedial action order will be at your cost," Kapiniak wrote, adding that if the invoice is not paid on time, it will be added to Grelecki's property taxes and could result in the land being sold off at a tax sale by the city to recoup the money owed. 

Property does not present safety issue: lawyer

In an interview with CBC News, Grelecki's lawyer, Shane Dugas, said the city has been inconsistent in dealing with his client, citing recent building permits the city granted to Grelecki to do repairs to the home and retaining wall. 

"He relied on the permits and spent money on his engineers to get his property ready to satisfy the [structural] issues, but then the city pulled the permits and he couldn't complete the work," Dugas said. 

In court documents the city argues Grelecki did not inform city staff about the demolition order on his property when applying for the permits and when the staff member was made aware of the situation the permits were revoked. 

Dugas also highlighted a cycling crash Grelecki suffered last fall resulting in a concussion and other injuries as a reason his client has been unable to deal with issues on the property. 

"I think it's important that Mr. Grelecki be given an opportunity to complete the repairs," he said.

"This property is not presenting a life and safety issue to anyone. It just seems the city has made its decision to demolish and they don't seem willing to back off."

In the week leading up to the deadline Grelecki's friend Hector Odiyar was on site to help remove the large amount of equipment and construction materials from his property. 

"I really feel sorry for him and the way things are turning out for him," said Odiyar.

"I know he had quite a few chances, but I think now that if he is given another chance, given a permit to finish the work, I think that it would happen."

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Brady Strachan

CBC Reporter

Brady Strachan is a CBC reporter based in Kelowna, B.C. Besides Kelowna, Strachan has covered stories for CBC News in Winnipeg, Brandon, Vancouver and internationally. Follow his tweets @BradyStrachan