Of the more than 20,000 owners of illegal secondary suites in Surrey, only one has applied for a permit to legalize their unit since the city passed a law allowing one suite per home three months ago.
After more than 30 years of grappling with the issue, on Dec. 13, 2010, Surrey enacted legislation allowing one secondary suite per home throughout the city.
Surrey views secondary suites as a necessary form of affordable housing stock. Part of the new legislation is intended to bring existing secondary suites up to current B.C. Building Code standards, so the units will be safer.
But as of March 21, The Leader has learned just one homeowner has applied for the necessary permits.
Acting Mayor Barinder Rasode isn’t pleased with the situation.
“Obviously, we need to do a better job of educating the public that this is something they need to move on quickly,” Rasode said Monday. “And we probably haven’t done that in a way that we should yet.”
Rasode, whose home has a suite, initiated the process of obtaining necessary permits before the bylaw was passed.
Tara Foslien, senior communications specialist for Mayor Dianne Watts, said by email Monday the city is initially focusing on homes with multiple suites.
Surrey’s new bylaw does not allow multiple suites in a single-family home.
However, as of March 21, just 46 letters have been sent to homeowners with multiple suites, asking them to remove the units.
It’s estimated that more than 4,000 homes in Surrey have multiple suites.
Foslien said the 46 homes targeted have been drawn to the city’s attention through various means, including public complaints.
Rasode said that’s not how enforcement should work.
“So, what I’m hearing is that it is still the traditional complaint-driven process?” she asked. “That would not be my intention from the bylaw that we passed.”
Rasode expects that when a new bylaw clerk and two full-time bylaw officers are in place next month, the notices will be sent out much more quickly.
In other cities, multiple suites are shut down as soon as they are discovered.
Under a new law in Delta, owners of multiple suites are fined $200 a day until they comply with the bylaw.
Delta, which passed a bylaw similar to Surrey’s last year, also experienced a sluggish pace of compliance at first.
In the first six months of the bylaw being in force, Delta saw just a dozen property owners come forward to start the legalization process.
To get things moving, Delta offered a $300 credit toward utility fees if homeowners registered their suites by Dec. 31 of this year.
As an added incentive, the Corporation of Delta is waiving the permit fee until the end of 2011.
Rasode doesn’t want to offer incentives because she believes people should be complying with the bylaw.
Foslien points out compliance will occur much more rapidly once more bylaw officers are hired to specifically enforce the new legislation. One of the officers will start work by the end of April and recruitment for the other is underway.
Surrey staff point out changes that don’t involve enforcement are already occurring.
Specifically, most new homes being built in the city now include secondary suites in the architectural drawings and will be built to code.
That represents a marked difference from before, when most builders submitted applications for homes without suites, then retrofitted the home after inspection to include a suite.
Rasode said the process of creating and enforcing a bylaw has been extremely difficult, particularly because people’s shelter is at stake.
“It’s absolutely a tough one from all perspectives,” Rasode said.
More information about Surrey’s secondary suite bylaw and the process of legalizing suites can be found at http://www.surrey.ca/bylaws-policies-licenses/7617.aspx
Other actions being taken by the city:
• Surrey’s building division is preparing a document called “Legalize Your Suite.” It will provide detailed information on what will be required.
• Building inspectors are being trained to ensure a consistent approach to inspecting the suites.
• Video materials and other publications are being prepared to assist builders.
• Two more bylaw officers are being hired to address the issue of secondary suites.