Surrey is ramping up its enforcement of illegal building, with 66 homeowners now being investigated for unauthorized construction.
Many say it’s about time, with several residents, real estate agents and builders calling The Leader in recent weeks to report houses under construction that were continuing to have decks closed in to increase the square footage of the homes.
On Oct. 4, The Leader reported Surrey staff had characterized the illegal building issue in the city as “rampant.”
Jean LaMontagne, Surrey’s general manager of planning and development, said last Thursday there have been 240 stop-work orders placed on dwellings with unauthorized construction since September 2008. About one-third of those have been forwarded to the legal department.
Just two days earlier, City Solicitor Craig MacFarlane said there were 66 files receiving various levels of enforcement – including warning letters and evidence gathering – with two before B.C. Supreme Court.
Just prior to the last civic election, the city had 63 lawsuits in the works against people who had added to their homes illegally, mostly filling in decks without civic approval. Of those, 10 have since complied with building requirements, leaving 53 legal actions on hold.
They were shelved after a newly formed group called the Surrey Ratepayers Association approached council just weeks before the 2008 civic election asking the elected officials to “direct that all actions by the city related to seeking compliance with the RF zone (single family residential) related to unauthorized additions or deck enclosures be held in abeyance.”
The group brought a petition with more than 4,000 names on it.
Council acquiesced and at the same time started a process of re-examining all single-family residential (RF) zones, with the possibility of increasing square footage from 3,550 square feet to 4,550 square feet.
The increase in size would render most of the unauthorized expansions legal, so long as an engineer or other qualified professional signs off on the work.
MacFarlane said the 66 enforcement actions are in addition to the 53 now being held in abeyance.
“There’s two just waiting for the hearing date, We’re ready to go to trial,” he said.
He said the city sometimes uses Section 57 of the Community Charter to put a note on the property, which makes it difficult to obtain financing or to sell it.
But, as in Delta’s case, Surrey finds it more beneficial to cycle the offenders through the courts if they can’t get compliance.
“The best way, we’ve found, is to use Supreme Court action for a mandatory injunction,” MacFarlane said.
As for the court actions being held in abeyance, MacFarlane said the city is waiting for the outcome of the RF zone review before deciding what will happen to them.
Meanwhile, North Surrey’s Rod Raymond, among several others, told The Leader he continues to see decks being closed in after final inspection.
If Surrey has initiated a clampdown, Raymond says, it hasn’t had much of an effect yet.
LaMontagne acknowledges that the 240 stop-work orders are only a portion of the illegal building occurring in Surrey.
He encourages anyone who knows of illegal construction to call city hall at 591-4011.