LAKE COUNTRY - Raif Fleihan loves to talk.
He tells stories about his earlier days in Kelowna, like how he started the Burger Baron or bought and sold buildings such as the one, ironically, that is now the Cornerstone homeless shelter. He talks freely about federal and international politics.
What he doesn’t want to talk about so much are the people living in his Airport Inn Lakeside in Lake Country, or let iNFOnews.ca speak to them.
“No, they don’t need to be troubled any more,” Fleihan said.
He’s been ordered to evict his tenants, board up his buildings and fence everything off by about Oct. 5.
But Lake Country staff and council have to figure out what to do with the other people living in the rental units. Fleihan won’t say how many tenants are there but indicated it may be less than the 23 estimated earlier.
He described them as homeless. Some of whom were delivered there, he said, by the police.
“A man has a fight with his wife, are you going to take him to jail?” he said. “No. They unload on me.”
Some are temporarily homeless and they’ve lost their job or had their house burn down. Others, he indicated, have been there for months.
He wouldn’t say if any of them were addicted to drugs or alcohol.
He charges rents of $1,200 to $3,000 a month, depending on the size of the suite.
“Sometimes they don’t pay so I ask them to leave,” he said. “Sometimes I give them a job so they can afford to stay.”
Lake Country officials have been at war with Fleihan for years – since he first bought the unfinished motel a decade or so ago – he can’t remember the date.
He finished the three buildings that make up the hotel despite, he said, opposition from one mayor and support from another.
“Sometimes you’re successful,” he said by way of explanation for authority’s apparent dislike of him. “People are jealous if they cannot do it (run a business) and they don’t like it.”
He dismissed the suggestion that he might have been in the wrong for not getting proper permits and failing inspections.
A year ago, he agreed to close the business but has continued to rent it on a monthly basis. He told iNFOnews.ca he doesn’t need a licence for monthly rentals.
Finally, in July, staff took photos of a collapsed balcony near the front entrance and council ordered the buildings evacuated within 45 days for safety reasons. That gives him until about Oct. 5.
That balcony has since been repaired, brush has been cleaned up, a small backhoe has been working on clearing land near the lobby and a staircase leading to uphill buildings looks freshly built.
“I’ve had five engineers check it out,” Fleihan said when asked if the buildings were safe. “I have maintenance done all the time. You have to update every year. You have to paint and replace the carpets. Otherwise, they don’t rent.”
Still, there’s weeds growing through the pavement next to sidewalks and, when viewed from above, there are piles of debris and old vehicles outside some units.
Fleihan does not seem concerned about the fate of his tenants, if Lake Country moves in and forces them out.
“They have to find them shelter,” he said. “The energy spent to destroy people’s lives… it’s easier to come and talk and make things affordable.”
For himself, he has no worries about finding another place to live.
“We have a court system,” he said. “I’ve got enough money. I’ll wear them out.”
Plus, the land is for sale and he's talking about building condos.
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