SURREY — The City of Surrey will begin fining homeowners who claim they don’t have a secondary suite, but in fact do.
Starting next February, homeowners doing so will be subject to a $1,000 fine, after council approved a corporate report suggesting the changes on Monday.
In 2010, council approved changes to the city’s zoning bylaw to allow secondary suites. Then in 2011, the city introduced a secondary suite service fee, which is currently $495 per suite per year.
Once a suite fee is attached to a property, the only way to remove it is if the owner arranges for an inspection by a bylaw enforcement officer to confirm the suite no longer exists.
To remove a suite fee from a home, the most common thing to have to prove is that the stove has been removed, said Jas Rehal, Surrey’s manager of bylaw enforcement.
“That is the main item for a suite,” Rehal said. “We were finding individuals removing the stove, we’d do the inspection and it would meet the criteria for having no suite, and then we were finding the stove being put back in and the suite being re-rented.”
Rehal said the approved amendments will help with enforcement.
“This gives a financial penalty if someone puts a suite in without notifying the city,” he said.
The city currently has more than 24,000 registered secondary suites, which has grown from 17,300 in 2011.
Surrey has a total of 24 bylaw officers, two of which are dedicated to secondary suite matters.
Rehal said the existing officers are able to handle that workload.
“Right now we’re managing it. We prioritize as required,” Rehal said.
Crystal Litonjua has lived in the East Clayton neighbourhood for seven years, and says she has a neighbour who is removing a stove from their suite for bylaw inspections, then reinstating it after the fact.
Litonjua went on to say that some homeowners near her have basement suites and also rent out coach homes on their properties, which is illegal in Surrey.
She said she’s been reporting the issues to the City of Surrey for years to no avail.
“I’m sick of it,” Litonjua said. “How wrong is this? I’m suffering, I’m doing what’s right, they’re doing what’s wrong and they’re getting away with it.”
Litonjua said extra tenants in her neighbourhood make parking a major problem.
“It’s absolutely ridiculous. I can’t even have visitors over in the evening,” she said.
“You guys are in the wrong. I pay my taxes, I don’t have a suite, and I need to park in front of my home.”
She hopes the amendments to the bylaw will help combat the issue, but said it’s a matter of proper enforcement.
“They actually have to do it,” she said.
Litonjua finds it “ridiculous” that the city has 24 bylaw officers, two tasked specifically with handling secondary suite inspections.
“They’re overworked, that’s too much,” she said, adding that she would like to see more officers hired to tackle the issue.
Coun. Barinder Rasode said she’s heard concerns from the community about homeowners illegally renting out suites.
Like Rehal, Rasode also thinks the current bylaw officers can handle the workload they face.
“Absolutely bylaw enforcement is a priority and we’ve been increasing the number of officers every year. And we actually have two designated officers just on (the secondary suite) issue,” she said.
But Rasode admitted there’s still a lot of work to be done, especially when it comes to homeowners having more than one secondary suite, which is not legal in Surrey.
“I think we did a very thoughtful amendment to allow one secondary suite per home. Now the challenge we have is homes with more than one secondary suite. It is an issue that comes up frequently and I think at this point, we believe that neighbourhoods are able to absorb, comfortably, one suite per home. We don’t believe, at this point, that two suites are feasible in terms of the impact that is has on neighbourhoods, so we’re going to continue to enforce them.”
But Rasode said the city faces a difficult balancing act when it comes to enforcement.
“These are real people who live in these suites. There’s seniors, there’s mothers with children, and when landlords break a bylaw by renting out two suites, it’s not the fault of the tenant... Even though it seems like an easy solution for residents who are complaining to evict the residents, these are people. There’s a real human aspect to this whole dilemma and that’s why it’s such a challenge for the city.”
Also at Monday’s council meeting, Mayor Dianne Watts asked that staff explore an option to allow residents to register suites online.
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