Surrey City Council voted Monday night to halt its crackdown on illegal suites and instead, look at legalizing them.
This comes after much controversy surrounding the city’s crackdown on illegal suites in East Clayton.
Staff have been directed to suspend enforcement action on illegal multiple suites and instead develop a comprehensive city-wide “Multiple Suite Compliance Program.”
It’s expected to take a year to develop the new program.
However, the city insists that no new multiple suites will be tolerated.
And suites that cannot be legalized and adhere to the BC Building Code requirements will be forced to decommission.
The city also intends to embark on a communication plan to ensure residents understand the new rules.
“One of the things we really wanted to do was strike the balance between bringing suites into compliance while not abruptly displacing families and residents,” Mayor Linda Hepner told the Now-Leader on Tuesday morning.
“At the end of the day, we will be focusing on legalization, on relocation monitoring and on prevention. So those sort of three elements.
“We do have to develop over the course of these many months, what does that program look like? That will require education and working with the owners of those suites so they’ve been given every reasonable effort to come into compliance.”
Hepner noted the illegal suite issue has been around “as long as I’ve been at city hall, so 32 years at least.”
“It’s been decades in the making. It started in areas where larger homes came it, and nothing was done at the time, and it’s about time this council did something that made everyone rest easy.”
During Monday night’s city council meeting, Hepner said she wants to determine “what else we can do as a council to better enable the future construction of suites, because we all know that secondary suites are here to stay and we just want to make sure they’re also safe for the people that are living in them.”
“In the meantime we are lifting the heavy weight of eviction from those that were earlier surprised by letters from the city until we have a more comprehensive policy of compliance,” she added. “But I also want to assure homeowners who have purchased and expect houses around them to be compliant that we are working through this diligently in order to assure them of compliance in the mid-term or the long-term.”
Councillor Bruce Hayne noted the only way to legalize secondary suites is through a zoning process.
“The only way to legalize second suites is through a zoning process and currently we don’t have that zone in the city,” said Hayne Monday night. “Certainly, we could look that at that in certain areas of the city.”
A very important piece of the equation, he noted, is the BC Building Code.
“As soon as you get into a two-suite situation in a house, the BC building code requires sprinkler systems and so on…to retrofit them into existing houses, I think homeowners will find them to be prohibitive.”
Hayne said for him, the issue centres around reducing the number of illegal suites in Surrey “so that we can have the types of liveable communities that they were planned to be. So we don’t have so many portables at our schools, so we don’t have so many parking issues and don’t have our roads so jammed up.”
Hayne suggested the city create incentives for developers to construct purpose-built rental stock, noting almost none has been built in Surrey for 25 years.
Council’s decision comes after the city sent notices to homeowners of 175 illegal suites in East Clayton last August, giving them until Jan. 31, 2018 to remove their multiple suite or face fines and even court action.
But after public outcry, Mayor Linda Hepner said the crackdown was “on hold” in October.
While it has previously only been legal in the City of Surrey to have one suite if you live in the home, many of the homes in the Clayton neighbourhood were built with a suite as well as a coach home. The city allows homeowners to rent one or the other out, but some continue to rent both.
The city reports there are just shy of 2,400 multiple suites currently registered in the city.
There has been both praise and concern about council’s Monday night decision.
Clayton resident Greg Garner was one of the landlords who received a notice to remove his suite.
Garner said he is “relieved that the city has decided to stop these evictions.”
“I am also happy that city will look at legalizing these basement suites, although I believe they have already done so by collecting my secondary suite fees,” he said Tuesday. Garner is referring to the City of Surrey allowing him to register two suites in his home and collecting fees on both, despite the bylaw saying only one is allowed.
“Last night at the city council meeting there was no mention of parking complaints and only that mayor and council are concerned about tenant safety. I am also concerned about the safety and security of tenants,” Garner said. “I would not have my nanny living downstairs if my suite was unsafe. I believe that my suite would meet BC Building Code standards as it has its own heating system and a fire safety door. It’s a beautiful place to live.
“I look forward to this process moving along,” Garner added, “and I am happy that the city is showing that they are in touch with the realities of today’s housing market and not shutting down suites based upon flawed parking complaint data.”
But Cloverdale Community Association President Mike Bola took to Twitter to air his concerns Tuesday morning.
“Legalizing secondary suites is challenging and costly,” Bola wrote. “For example building codes will require separate ventilation systems and sprinkler systems, plus requires a zoning application. Nobody will remove drywall, redo electrical wiring and plumbing because the cost will be huge.”
Bola added that “landlords created this problem on their own to make extra money” and they are now “punishing their tenants.”
“Legalization in existing houses will not be cheap or easy,” he said.
Mayor Linda Hepner said in October that the city has what may be the lowest vacancy rate it’s ever had, at 0.4 per cent.
“I think that’s contributing to our homeless count,” she said at the time.“In the midst of our haste to solve the parking problem, we have now confronted, and have, an enormous housing problem.”