If you're thinking about suing City Hall you might first want to bone up on the time limitations set out to file a claim, as outlined in the Local Government Act.
A Surrey Landlord found out the hard way what can happen if you don't.
Abbas Khani-Hanjani claimed that City of Surrey staff illegally broke into his property in Cloverdale, resulting in $46,000 in damages, but his lawsuit was dismissed because he didn't meet a legal deadline.
Surrey provincial court Judge Michael Hicks tossed Khani-Hanjani's case out of court after finding he failed to give notice of his claim within the time required under the Local Government Act.
Khani-Hanjani claimed representatives from the City of Surrey broke into his premises at 7150-182 Street in May 3, 2007, resulting in damages exceeding $46,000. He claimed the City forced him to pay for electrical upgrading and licencing that ended up also costing him nearly a year's worth of rental revenue. He also said he was "unlawfully served" with a tax sale notice on May 19, 2010 because he refused to pay $2,371 in fees assessed by the city.
The conflict was over a house and several outbuildings he'd rented out to a tenant.
Judge Hicks heard that on May 1, 2007, Surrey's Electrical Fire and Safety Inspection Team posted a notice on the property that an inspection would take place within 48 hours, based on BC Hydro records that led them to believe there was a marijuana grow operation there.
Two days later, the tenant let them inspect the house and one of the outbuildings, but not the other.
In 2006, the City enacted its Controlled Substance Property Bylaw, under Community Charter, which enables a city inspector to enter property to determine if regulations are being met or to do a safety inspection. The bylaw, which was set up to address health, safety and fire hazard concerns brought on by unsafe electrical wiring and other risks, also lets the city charge for these inspections.
The landlord told Hicks that he had raised concerns to the RCMP with respect to the property and tenant well before the City of Surrey inspectors "carelessly raided" his property, which led to the lawsuit.
"The Claimant expressed his frustration with the lack of concern shown by the RCMP in responding to concerns about the property and his tenant which he says he brought to their attention in the months leading up to the inspection on May 3, 2007," the judge noted in his reasons for decision. "He argues that if this had been acted upon, he would not have faced the situation which led to the inspection occurring. This might have relevance were the claim to proceed to trial on the merits. It does not however bear on the factors to be considered on this application."
After the May 3 inspection, the City then couriered a letter to Khani-Hanjani in Burnaby, stating the inspectors discovered "significant fire and electrical safety concerns relating to a marijuana grow operation in the first outbuilding, such that immediate action was required to eliminate the hazard to life and property."
BC Hydro was then ordered to cut electricity to the property, pursuant to the Safety Standards Act. The letter to Khani-Hanjani informed him that he needed to hire a registered electrical contractor to fix the problems, and get an electrical permit to carry out the work, to the tune of $2,371.
The court heard the letter was returned undelivered, with information that Khani-Hanjani's address was in Edmonton. According to an affidavit filed by John Hofmann, a senior Surrey bylaw officer, the invoice had been forwarded to the Edmonton address on May 10, the same day it was returned undelivered to the City.
On May 16, 2007, the inspection team returned to inspect the second outbuilding with a realtor and locksmith present, found a grow-op, and sent another letter to Khani-Hanjani's address in Edmonton. On June 28 Sterling Electric applied on behalf of the landlord for a permit to fix the problems identified by the inspection team, and the work was carried out the following day. Sterling Electric billed Khani-Hanjani $5,247 and Belfor Canada Ltd. presented him with an estimate for further repair work totaling $13,785.
Khani-Hanjani filed claim against the City of Surrey on August 18, 2010, in Surrey provincial court. In response, the City's legal counsel applied to have the claim against Surrey dismissed because under the Local Government Act he had only two months from the date the alleged damage happened to notify the city of his intention to sue. The Local Government Act 286(1) says a municipality "is in no case liable for damage unless notice in writing, setting out the time, place and manner in which the damage has been sustained, is delivered to the municipality within 2 months from the date on which the damage was sustained."
The judge found Khani-Hanjani missed his July 16, 2007 deadline and dismissed his lawsuit.
Khani-Hanjani protested that no one at City Hall informed him about the time limits and argued that the City had an obligation to alert him to that.
But Hicks found otherwise. "I am not aware of any obligation resting on the City to inform an individual in the claimant's circumstances of the time limitations and notice requirements," Hicks noted in his reasons for judgment.