Surrey halts Clayton Heights evictions, directs staff to look at legalizing suites

Click to play video: 'Frustration over Surrey crackdown on illegal suites'
Frustration over Surrey crackdown on illegal suites
WATCH: Frustration over Surrey crackdown on illegal suites – Oct 23, 2017

Tenants living in illegal suites in Surrey’s Clayton Heights neighbourhood have had their evictions stayed.

Surrey city council approved a motion Monday night that would freeze the city’s planned crackdown on multiple-suite rental properties in the area, while staff prepare a more comprehensive city-wide report on rental suites.

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Surrey landlords are allowed to have one legal rental suite, but the city said some property owners have been abusing that right by renting to multiple tenants.

Residents of at least 175 such units were ordered to vacate their units in the East Clayton neighbourhood by the end of January, amid a rash of complaints over parking and congestion in the area.

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Council initially pressed pause on those evictions in October; that window has now been extended, with staff directed to develop a new “Multiple Suite Compliance Program” before next year’s election.

If adopted, that program would see current multiple-suite rentals either brought up to code and legalized, or shut down.

It would also ban the creation of any new multiple-suite rentals.

WATCH: The City of Surrey’s crackdown on illegal suites leaves 175 families in limbo

Click to play video: 'The City of Surrey’s crackdown on illegal suites leaves 175 families in limbo'
The City of Surrey’s crackdown on illegal suites leaves 175 families in limbo

In the debate over the measure, several councillors said suites have become the only rental option in Surrey because the city hasn’t created enough purpose-built rental options over the last two decades.

The latest numbers from the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation (CMHC) show Surrey has a rental vacancy rate of 0.6 per cent.

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LISTEN: Solving the parking issues in Clayton Heights

Heidi Thomas is one renter who was facing a possible eviction. On Monday, she said she’s still unsure about how secure her housing situation is.

She’s considering moving to a different city in search of stability for her family.

“My main concern was that my daughter has been going to school here since grade seven in this area,” she said. “At least I know she can finish grade 12 with her peers. Then we’ll have to figure out something else afterwards.”

The total number of illegal suites in Surrey is unknown, but the city reports that it has registered at least 2,395 properties with multiple suites.

It says since 2010, it has received more than 11,000 complaints related to the units, along with associated parking and congestion issues.

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Councillor Bruce Hayne says by having a plan to decommission multiple suites over a period of time, the parking issue will be addressed.

“I think they certainly do go hand in hand, I mean the parking difficulties are a very visual byproduct of the suite issue, as are portables on our school grounds and so on and so on, so the whole congestion in the area is part and parcel with the suites, but we’re gonna be dealing with them as quickly as we can, both parking and the suite issue.”

Hayne says there will be no leniency on new secondary suites in the city.

“We’ve already identified about 2,600 of them city wide, of homes with multiple suites, and so we’re trying to identify as many of them as we can that are existing now and then we’ll deal with those through this corporate report that’s coming back, and we’ll be looking at ways to decommission those or bring them in to compliance.”

He says legalizing secondary suites is challenging and costly, for example building codes will require separate ventilation systems and sprinkler systems, plus requires a zoning application.

Hayne says city staff will be coming back in about six months with an interim report.

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