Surrey Mayor Dianne Watts says having a single-family dwelling with three or four suites in it ‘just doesn’t work.’

Surrey Mayor Dianne Watts says having a single-family dwelling with three or four suites in it ‘just doesn’t work.’

Surrey considers multiple suite zones

Enforcement not the only solution for fixing a ‘30-year-old problem,’ mayor says

A baby born in Surrey this year will be nearing retirement age by the time all homes with multiple suites are brought into compliance with city bylaws – 63 years at Surrey’s current enforcement rate.

Cracking down on illegal suites is not a challenge unique to Surrey. Officials throughout the region who have embarked upon similar enforcement initiatives say prohibitions are slow to bear fruit.

Nevertheless, Surrey wants swifter response time and is now working on a back-up plan: Allow homes with multiple suites in pre-determined zones in the city.

Coun. Barinder Rasode said the approach only makes sense.

“Is it (tenants’) fault that their landlord is now disobeying a bylaw and we should give them two months notice?” Rasode asked. “(Do) we say ‘we don’t care if your kid’s going to finish school here,’ or ‘your treatment at the hospital is here, but you’re going out just because it’s our bylaw?’

“We better start thinking outside the box, because what we’re doing isn’t working right now,” Rasode said.

When Surrey created a bylaw allowing one secondary suite per home in December 2010, it made shutting down multiple suites a priority.

But according to a request under Freedom of Information legislation, The Leader learned the city had shut down just 63 of the estimated 4,000 homes with multiples suites by November last year – nearly a year after the new bylaw came into force.

At that rate, it will be 2075 before all multiple suites are eradicated, assuming no more are built in the meantime, or those already shut down aren’t re-opened by the landowner..

Critics of illegal suites are quick to say their biggest bone of contention is homes that contain multiple suites. Homes with multiple suites are not covered under the B.C. building code and are currently forbidden in Surrey. The suites are a draw on resources, critics say, including schools, parking spaces, city services and police time.

Last year, in response to questions about why so few people have applied for permits for one suite, the mayor’s office said the city is focusing on cracking down on multiple suites, a plan which will continue.

But Surrey is now developing an additional strategy: Allow them in pre-determined zones.

Suite stress – a Leader series“If you want to have multiple suites, then you need to be in an area that’s zoned for multiple suites,” said Mayor Dianne Watts. “Because, in essence, they’re little mini apartments.”

The zones, which don’t currently exist, would probably be for duplexes, fourplexes and sixplexes, Watts said. She notes they would be purposely built for multiple families.

The existing multiple suites in a single-family home is not acceptable, she said.

“You can’t have a single-family dwelling and have three or four suites in it, it just doesn’t work,” Watts said.

That said, the process of shutting the homes down isn’t that easy.

“We’re trying to fix a 30-year-old problem and it’s not an easy one,” Watts said. “You’ve got single moms, kids going to school and all the rest of it.”

Two years ago, the city commissioned pollster Ipsos Reid to conduct a survey of Surrey residents to gauge support for secondary suites.

Twelve hundred Surrey homes were polled from June 28 to July 16, 2010 and the results are considered statistically accurate within 2.9 per cent, 19 times out of 20.

The poll indicated 63 per cent of Surrey residents supported one suite per home.

Surrey forged ahead, allowing one suite per home, while vowing to shut down homes with multiple dwellings.

It was the first time in three decades that secondary suites were legalized. The move provided homeowners with legitimate mortgage helpers, while increasing the amount of rental housing stock in the city.

However, the Ipsos Reid survey showed people weren’t as amenable to homes with multiple suites.

Support for multiple-suite homes dropped to 47 per cent, a figure that sunk to 35 per cent in South Surrey and 39 per cent approval in Cloverdale.

The number of people in favour of multiple suites was marginally higher in Guildford, Whalley, and City Centre at 51 per cent, and Newton at 50 per cent.

Rasode said Surrey should look at allowing some of the multiple suites that currently exist, adding not all of them have bad tenants causing stress on the neighbourhood.

If a community in Surrey shows that at least 80 per cent of the residents are in favour of multiple suites, they should be allowed, said Rasode.

“I think we need to take a very human approach to this,” she said.

NEXT WEEK: Meet the people who live in secondary suites and the landlords who rent them.