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Crackdown on illegal suites in Clayton immoral, says Surrey landlord

Greg Garner says it’s ‘ridiculous’ that the city has been collecting fees from illegal suites and is now about to evict renters
During the month of August, the City of Surrey sent notices to homeowners of 175 illegal suites in East Clayton. Owners have six months to comply. (File photo)

CLOVERDALE — A Clayton resident and landlord is calling Surrey’s “threatening” tactics to get rid of the neighbourhood’s illegal suites immoral and unethical.

Greg Garner is even questioning the legality of the move.

“I feel like the city has to open their eyes and realize they cannot go through with this,” Garner told the Now-Leader. “You’re going to (be) displacing so many families and putting hardship on so many people.”

During the month of August, the city sent notices to homeowners of 175 illegal suites in East Clayton. Owners have six months to comply.

Garner says he’s consulting with a lawyer after receiving what he calls “threatening” letters from the city that say if he doesn’t remove one of his two suites before Jan. 31, 2018, he could face penalties and possibly legal action.

The City of Surrey legally allows one secondary suite per residential property, and Garner has two. He rents out his coach home and his disabled daughter’s nanny rents his basement suite.

The hitch, Garner says, is that the city taxes him on both.

Since Sept. 19, 2014, he’s been paying suite fees not only for his coach home, but also on the “illegal suite” he’s being asked to remove.

His property tax documents show charges for a “Secondary Dwelling Service Fee” and also a “Multiple Secondary Suite Service Fee” of $568 each (see photo below).

“This is so ridiculous to me,” he says. “Us people who’ve been paying our fees, we should’ve got letters saying,’Thank you very much for paying your fees. You are grandfathered into this program. We’re going to be cracking down on those who haven’t paid their fees.’”

Furthermore, Garner said it’s unethical for the city to force eviction on 175 homes in the midst of a housing crisis.

“I’ve seen on Facebook, a single mother on Monday got an eviction notice. Another guy’s saying he was moving his elderly parents downstairs. Again, paying the taxes. In my mind, if we weren’t paying taxes on it, there’s not much of an argument here.”

Garner says the fact the city is charging him tax on two suites means it has essentially allowed both of the suites. The city knew this was going on, he stressed.

“I think these 175 are all people who are paying the fee. So there’s record. People who are actually following the rules, so they can track us down.”

To make matters worse, said Garner, he just signed a five-year lease with his nanny in the basement suite.

“I’m happy to pay the fees if my nanny can have a stove to cook on everyday…. she’s waiting to bring her family over in the next month. I’ve entered into this contract with her so she has stability for her family who’s coming from the Philippines and has a comfortable nice place to live with landlords who are going to treat her with respect.”

Plus, he added, “I can’t evict a tenant without cause.”

Garner, like many of his neighbours, are frustrated with the community’s parking issues. But he said this isn’t the way to go about solving it.

“I’m hoping the City of Surrey is going to open their eyes and realize they can’t do this, and go back to the drawing board and come up with a better solution to the parking problem…. At the end of the day the City of Surrey is responsible for this,” he said of the overcrowded neighbourhood, citing the lack of on-site parking, compact garages, and homes allowed to be built with a basement suite in addition to a coach home.

“They clearly made a poor decision on it, but they’re going to take it out on 175-plus tenants and force them to move because they’re tired of getting parking complaints?”

Garner said he’s consulting with a lawyer on the legality of the city’s move.

“We have major issues in the City of Surrey, we’ve got shootings and everything else, I jut can’t imagine that they can focus their energy on evicting 175 people. It’s just mind-boggling to me,” he said.

Jas Rehal, bylaws manager for Surrey, acknowledged the city is, in fact, taxing some owners on two suites.

“If an individual declared their multiple suite, and proactively registered with the city, at the bottom of that declaration form, it clearly states that you’re aware multiple suites may not be applicable and may be subject to a removal order in the future. That’s our means on how we can go after these,” he told the Now-Leader.

“These fees are not necessarily to make a suite legal.”

Asked if this could be categorized as the city profiting off of illegal suites, Rehal said, “no, no, no.”

“We’re not profiting,” he said. “We’re collecting fees to help alleviate the financial costs associated with servicing. Those fees came in years ago and have been in place well before my time.”

So, why didn’t the city just say no and force owners to remove suites when it became aware of them?

Rehal said the city wanted to exhaust every other option to resolve the parking issue. The aim was to avoid forcing the removal of some suites, and thus, people losing their homes.

“We have tried everything else,” Rehal said, adding the city has tried several initiatives over the past five years in attempts to resolve parking woes.

“We usually give 60 days, but we’re giving until Jan. 31. That’s it. Officers are going to go back on each property and sit with each owner. We’ll work with them but at the end of the day, you need to be in compliance.”

Asked what landlords who have lease agreements in place should do, Rehal said owners need to “make sure their properties are in compliance with municipal regulations” and that it’s the owners responsibility to handle their tenancy responsibilities.

Some, like Garner, have asked if all 175 homeowners being targeted had declared their suites to the city. Rehal said no, that it’s a mix of declared and undeclared.

Instead, Rehal said this first enforcement push is “complaint driven.”

“We have a complaint on file for all 175. And a complaint that’s been substantiated,” he added.

Rehal said city hall has heard from many of the 175 landlords letters have been issued to, may consider holding a forum to discuss the details, if that’s of interest to the community.

But Garner insists he has never been contacted or visited by a bylaw officer in relation to a complaint, and says he will be asking the city about the “supposed complaint” against his property.

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