The City of Surrey has sharpened its teeth when it comes to illegal construction within city limits.
Council endorsed a corporate report from staff at Monday’s regular meeting that will, once all bylaw amendments are approved, drastically increase the city’s firepower when dealing with illegal builds.
Council has yet to approve the amendments, but asked staff to bring them forward in the future approval.
Coun. Laurie Guerra said this is “very timely” given the number of complaints council is receiving. “You know that if people are coming to councillors, it’s kind-of their last resort,” she said. “In my opinion these changes couldn’t have come fast enough.”
Coun. Allison Patton said she especially likes the part where multiple tickets can be issued for the same offence on separate days. “I think that will help with our teeth on the matter.”
Coun. Jack Hundial presented in July 2021 a notice of motion aimed at curbing illegal and unauthorized construction in Surrey, which he said “presents real dangers to life.” Council approved his motion in September and directed city staff to look at “enhanced enforcement, prosecution and public awareness” to tackle illegal and unauthorized construction here, with an eye to “mitigate loss of life, destruction of property” and ensure compliance with bylaws.
He said the problem has been around for many years but the enforcement “has been very light in our bylaws.”
As part of the changes, the city will double the current fine from $500 to $1,000 for infractions such as preventing an inspection, construction without a permit, occupancy without a permit, and ignoring a stop work order.
In a response to a question from Coun. Nagra, city staff clarified that if approved, bylaw amendments will allow the city to issue a fine for construction without a permit, for example, and return the next day to issue another ticket if it’s evident that construction has continued.
“I think the number one reason that people were doing all these types of constructions was that permitting process was too long,” Nagra said. “So I hope, I really hope that that 10-week guaranteed time line is now implemented and permits are being issued in 10 weeks so that will encourage a lot of residents to apply for the permits before doing any sort of work.”
City staff are also looking forward to introduce a new bylaw and associated fines for when a Stop Work Order is not displayed on the property.
Coun. Linda Annis echoed the other councillors’ concerns. She said the “education piece is really critical” because “oftentimes people don’t understand the dangers that they’re getting themselves into by some of the illegal construction.”
The increased fines, she said, will hit those who deliberately engage in illegal construction and view fines as simply the cost of doing business, “I think this will hit them a lot harder.”
Coun. Brenda Locke noted illegal construction is really disruptive to neighbourhoods “becoming downright dangerous in some cases.” Coun. Doug Elford added his voice against illegal builds in Surrey.
“Some of them are just beyond ridiculous,” he said. “I don’t even know why or how they attempt to do that sort of thing out there.”
Having a dedicated enforcement team will “help discourage a lot of this activity,” Elford said.