More than 20 displaced Abbotsford condo residents sue ex-neighbours for ‘catastrophic’ fire

Two years after a catastrophic condominium fire forced more than 160 people from their homes in Abbotsford, B.C., more than 20 displaced residents are suing three former neighbours, claiming prohibited barbecues and smoking in their units sparked the flames.

A case that has been working its way through the British Columbia courts for more than a year suddenly gained steam last week, with the bulk filing of more than a dozen new lawsuits from 19 former renters — seven of whom have yet to be named — and one former owner at the scorched building.

The massive fire at 30515 Cardinal Ave. broke out early in the morning on May 3, destroying the four-storey condo building and forcing all residents and neighbouring businesses to evacuate. Strata insurance paid for it to be rebuilt, and it was habitable again in August 2023, according to a statement from the original builder.

The residents are all separately suing unit 406 owner Pamela Ramrup, unit 306 owner Harjinder Singh Dhaliwal and his yet-to-be-named tenant, who they claim failed to follow or enforce the strata bylaws or ensure other residents would be “reasonably safe” in the building.

“The negligence of [Ramrup, Dhaliwal and the tenant] caused or contributed to the ignition, nature, intensity and extent of the fire, causing loss, damage and injury,” according to the claims.

Prohibited propane tanks or barbecues on the balconies of two units where the defendants allegedly smoked regularly started or accelerated, according to the nearly identical claims.

After igniting early in the morning, the fire “then spread to the majority of the building, resulting in a catastrophic loss and the eviction of all residents,” read the claims, all filed in B.C. Supreme Court on April 30 and May 1.

The legal deluge comes two weeks after a B.C. judge allowed a couple who owned one of the units to amend a lawsuit filed against Dhaliwal and his tenant in October 2022 to also name Ramrup as a defendant. That case, brought by Albert Forson and Hannah Amissah, has not yet been decided.

Fire crews on a lift into a burned apartment building.
Abbotsford fire crews stand on the balconies of an Abbotsford apartment building as they try to contain the three-alarm fire. (Ben Nelms/CBC)

However all the claims say Ramrup, Dhaliwal and the tenant are not the only ones to blame for the fire’s destruction.

The lawsuits allege the fire department was negligent and did not respond fast enough or with adequate resources to extinguish the fire before it made the building unsalvageable. Both the City of Abbotsford and Abbotsford Fire Rescue Service are named as defendants.

It took 51 firefighters, including crews from Langley and Mission, more than four hours to put out the fire and free pets still trapped inside, then Abbotsford Fire Chief Darren Lee told CBC News that day.

The building’s property management company, Quay Pacific, and its contractor, Elite Fire Protection, also failed to inspect the alleged fire hazards or to ensure the fire safety systems were working properly before the fire, according to the claims.

Additionally, the claims accuse the builder, Quantum Properties, contractor Stantec Consulting, and several other mostly unnamed employees and consultants of failing to ensure the building had adequate fire-warning and suppression systems.

The city, fire department, builder, property management, fire safety and construction companies and consultants have all denied any wrongdoing in relation to the October 2022 claim, according to responses filed in court. 

Fire fighters on a ladder.
Abbotsford fire crews work to contain the fire at the Cardinal Avenue apartment complex on May 3, 2022. (Ben Nelms/CBC)

No comment on new cases

CBC News contacted Ramrup for comment, and received a response from her lawyers stating “our client does not have any comment at this time.” She has not yet filed a response to any of the claims in court.

According to court documents, the plaintiffs in the 2022 claim have been unable to locate or reach Dhaliwal to serve the lawsuit for over a year. Efforts by CBC News to contact him were unsuccessful.

When reached by CBC News on Monday, Stantec and the city, which also spoke on behalf of the fire department, declined to comment on the new lawsuits.

Quantum Properties, via its lawyer Andrew Delmonico, said on Tuesday it had “not been served with notice of any recent claims, but as with any previous claims, we deny any responsibility for a fire alleged to have been caused by an unrelated party many years after this building was completed.”

Lawyers for Quay Pacific and Elite Fire Protection did not respond to CBC News before publication. 

All 22 plaintiffs are represented by the same Vancouver-based firm, Bronson Jones Gray & Company.

CBC News reached out to the plaintiffs via their lawyers, but none were available for interview before publication.

Ian Ashley, representing some of the plaintiffs, called his clients’ matter “devastating” in a Monday email to CBC but said he could not speak without authorization from his clients.

The former tenants and owners are seeking compensation for the value of their lost and damaged property, lost rental income, and in several cases, injuries caused by the fire, including mental anguish, according to the claims. Forson and Amissah’s unit, for example, was valued at $380,000 in July 2023, according to B.C. assessment.


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