02/20/2013 10:42 EST | Updated 04/22/2013 05:12 EDT

City blames B.C. government for fire regulation gap

Officials in Burnaby, B.C., say provincial regulations are preventing them from forcing landlords to make safety upgrades in buildings like the one that burned down in the city on Sunday and forced 100 people out of their homes.

But a CBC News investigation has also found that tenants’ advocates say there's no excuse for the city shirking its fire safety responsibilities.

A three-alarm fire that broke out just after 12 a.m. PT Sunday destroyed the aging Greenacres building on Smith Street near Canada Way sent more than 100 tenants scrambling onto the street.

Thanks to quick work by firefighters, no one was seriously injured, but as many as a dozen pets were killed and all tenant possessions went up in smoke.

The cause has not been determined.

No sprinklers

The building had no sprinklers and some now-homeless tenants claim the complex was poorly maintained and had electrical issues.

"You had to flick the switch 10 times to get the light on," said tenant Zelda Vosper.

There was a fatal fire in the building three years ago and tenants want to know why the City of Burnaby didn't crack down before the latest fire.

"I actually thought there was a sprinkler system in place and there really wasn't," said tenant Lora Szostak, who also said the fire alarm didn't seem to work properly.

“Our fire alarm, you could hardly hear it. At first it was, like, ding-ding and it was really slow.”

Acting Burnaby Mayor Sav Dhaliwal said both his city and many other municipalities simply don't have the power to force landlords to improve fire safety.

Older buildings only have to conform to fire safety standards dating back to when they were built — the early 1960s in the case of Greenacres. Sprinkler systems weren't required in the building then and they weren't now.

Municipalities need 'more powers'

Dhaliwal said that until the province gives more powers to municipalities, they can't impose tougher standards of maintenance.

"If there was a minimum standard, then all municipalities would at least be able to enforce those standards.”

But Tom Durning, of the Tenant Resource Advisory Centre, said that Burnaby is not taking sufficient responsibility.

“The city should be the first responder to any unsafe conditions any of their citizens face,” said Durning. “The city’s got to be there.”

One tenant who survived the Greenacres fire said she knows what changes she will make.

"I'm definitely not going to move into any crummy places that don't have safety features."