Demoralized staff, unsafe homes and questionable motives – the issue of Surrey’s ” Monster Homes”makes front page news in The Province

Welcome news greeted me on the front page of the print edition of The Province this morning , one that left me thanking the author of the article, Kent Spencer, and the powers that be for giving this issue some  much-needed attention on a larger scale.  Unionized employees from the city of Surrey have come forward, and this is what they have to say:

Surrey has turned a blind eye to illegal monster homes in the city — all of them unauthorized, un-inspected and unsafe, says Surrey’s unionized workforce.

The illegal additions, many measuring an extra 1,000 square feet, were built on the sly, they say.

Second-storey sundecks with patios underneath were sometimes boxed in on weekends following official inspections, despite rules that require building permits for such enclosures.

             One North Surrey home was advertised as a full “eight bedrooms and eight bathrooms” and has had a stop-work order posted for years.

Robin MacNair, spokesperson for the city’s local of the Canadian Union of Public Employees, says Mayor Dianne Watts knows about the unsafe conditions but has not taken action.

“All of the additions were built without permits and without inspections. The majority were not up to the building code. The work included plumbing and electrical installations,” MacNair said.

But, it gets better. Interestingly enough, the story takes a twist with inferences of the mayor pandering to specific voters before the municipal election last year:

Surrey was ready to take more than 70 cases to court in the fall of 2008, with charges of building without permits and building against stop-work orders.

But council voted to hold all impending cases “in abeyance” on Sept. 29, 2008, several weeks before the municipal election. Altogether, the city has 278 stop-work orders for unauthorized construction which are being held in abeyance. 

The city council decision came after lobbying by the Surrey Ratepayers Association, which presented a 4,239-name petition requesting stop-worker orders be “held in abeyance” while house sizes were reviewed.

Now, one councillor says the decision to hold off on those cases was done specifically to avoid alienating a large voter base in the city:

Surrey Civic Coalition Coun. Bob Bose said the city has left itself liable if anything goes wrong, because it knows about the illegal additions and has done nothing.

“The city has exposed itself to liability. If structures are built unsafely and we have failed to enforce bylaws, we are culpable,” he said.

He accused Surrey First of trying to gain favor with the ratepayer group shortly before last November’s civic election, which Surrey First won in a landslide.

“The Sept. 29 vote was directly related to the election. Surrey First did not want to suffer the wrath of a large part of the community,” Bose argued.

Some Surrey residents have had enough, and  most do agree with me when I say the city is no longer listening to the people who live here.

Recent decisions by council to allow a controversial, private rehab facility in a family neighbourhood, along with the move to go against their own gaming policy to allow slot machines in one of the cities poorest neighbourhoods speaks to motives that do not indicate that city council even cares about either the quality of life of local residents, or creating a  safe and sustainable community.

In fact, if it were not for the very sharp eyes of one Surrey resident, Rosemary  Zelinka  – ( who also happens to be a wonderful cheerleader for Surrey,as a member of the Surrey Association for Sustainable Communities ) –  the  entire monster home  issue would have been endorsed by council without this weeks public meetings! Kevin Diakiw had this in The Leader:

Darlene Bowyer, with the Port Kells Community Association, is becoming frustrated with what she says is a lack of process in this city.

“I think it’s time to move somewhere else,” she said.

She notes that had it not been for a sharp-eyed member of the Surrey Association for Sustainable Communities (SASC), the issue would have been endorsed by council without this week’s public open houses. Five consultation meetings are taking place from Oct. 27 to Nov. 5. The initial meeting took place Tuesday (Oct. 27).

SASC Coordinator Rosemary Zelinka spotted the item on the May 25, 2009 council agenda and tabled a letter from the association vocalizing concerns about the process.

The  article also gives the background on how this issue came to be. The Surrey Residents Association, under the representation of VP Kalvinder Bassi, has been lobbying the city for the past two years asking that the city no longer place limits on the height on homes being built here, and that they increase the allowable square footage of homes from the current  3,550 to 4,550 square feet. The SRA had originally asked to increase to 6,500 sq. feet, which is clearly not a single family residential home when it houses so many unauthorized suites.

The association even presented the city with a 4,239-name petition, however, those names  represented only  just over 1,700 homes.

One thing that stands out in this issue, is that some Surrey staff say the increase is needed to bring Surrey’s rules closer in line with other cities- but regardless of that, there is one major difference. The city of Surrey does not include basements in their calculations, whereas Richmond, Delta and Coquitlam do. And as anyone who lives here knows, those basements of monster homes often have up the three suites, in addition to the ones on the main levels of the house.  This can add up to a total of  5 illegal; suites in one home.

The issues relating to such illegal suites are endless.

Clearly, as the cost of housing becomes prohibitive for many people closer to Vancouver, the surge towards living in communities twards the valley is only going to increase. That’s part of why I ended up here in Surrey. However, it alarms me to no end that the development has been allowed to expand without taking the effect on local infrastructure into account, as well as the safety of the often vulnerable population who rent these illegal suites. Yes, some are up to code and safe, but the fact is that the vast majority are not.

I’m deeply concerned about this city, and the people who live here. This is part of the reason why the issues facing my old neighbours and friends in Newton  are still my issues, despite the fact I no longer call Newton my home. Someone needs to speak out, and keep these issues ‘out there’. 

Reality check time. You can build beautiful new buildings, and you can build rehab centres financed by wealthy businessmen who are on some of the mayors own committees, but unless you address and fix the issues that are the heart of why Surrey still has such a bad reputation, it means nothing. Keep allowing these monster homes in unlimited quantities, and you’ll have issues no amount of tax increases can manage.

As one resident, Peter G. told me recently: ” You can dress up a pig, but it’s still a pig. And that is what Watts is trying to do. She wants to cover up the deeper problems of crime and poor people, and it’s never going to work.”

This council  has a shameful record of pandering to residential areas they deem to hold the votes they need, and ignoring those that don’t. The Newton Corridor and Whalley are a testament to that.

My guess is, this may be the issue that leaves her in the cold. And here is why.

Upset the vote  in the community in favor of the Monster Homes, and she’s going to sacrifice the votes of those people and organizations who are  staunchly opposed. Toss in the property tax  and utilities increase she’s announced for next year, and the anger is going to grow at these mega home owners who are not paying their fair share. Will she and council take that chance?

I would say that might be quite a trade-off, considering the growing disfavour among many Surrey-ites. for the allegedly non-partisan style of politics the media lauds her for.  Time for the people of Surrey to  start looking for another viable candidate for mayor – one with enough business backing to consider making a run against her in the next election, and give Surrey residents a chance at a real future.

( One that doesn’t mimic Gordon Campbell and the BC Liberals style of putting  big business and developers far ahead of the average citizen in value.)  

 

 

 

 

14 Comments on “Demoralized staff, unsafe homes and questionable motives – the issue of Surrey’s ” Monster Homes”makes front page news in The Province

  1. When a “community leader” breaks the law by omission, refusing to act in accordance with existing statutes, are they criminals?

    Do they decide for themselves which of the laws to follow or will they share with citizens a list of codes that can be safely ignored?

  2. hey sal.
    You seem like a fairly intelligent,well rounded individual.I’ve been reading laila yuile for quite sometime and i have a question for you.Why are you such a fan of laila’s?

    i’ve gone back and read your posts(and there is alot).What’s the infatuation?curiosity killed the cat

  3. The thing is, if enough people ignore the law, and
    the law is not enforced, then eventually it will be decided that the community consensus is to change the law to accomodate those that ignored it. There are numerous precedents for this.

    That’s why these community meetings on zoning are being held now, with respect to increasing square footage, etc.

    My guess is that the increased square footage will be allowed, and all illegal additions will be grandfathered in. The houses who’s owners jumped the gun and
    made additions without them having been properly inspected, or those that failed the inspection, may have to make changes. But don’t hold your breath.

  4. You are right Kim, and Ms. Watt’s knows very well which side of her electoral bread is buttered.

    Frankly speaking, NOT allowing the increase and changes will alienate a large group of voters that may still have bitter memories come next election.

    There is weight to Councillor Bose’s argument of legal liability.

    Before the comments were closed on this Province story, one reader mentioned that a court case on the island created a precedent that may be applicable here.

    A home owner took the city to court for failing to enforce a bylaw governing home based businesses, and won, because the cities failure to act impacted the homeowners quality of life. ( I am assuming the home based business of his neighbour created noise or nuisance, and the city failed to deal with it) I am trying to locate that case to confirm the details and will post it when/ if I do.

  5. I am thinking you are good to talk about this. I own a regular home with the basement we had constructed to be a suite for my mother and father , and my younger sister to live with us. We went through the proper channels with the city to do it, and yes it cost more to do that, but we are wanting it to be safe and do it right, so if we ever sell it, than we can have no worries, right?

    But I am thinking that so many people having these monster homes are not doing it only for family, and it is wrong and makes it harder for the honest people.

    I see at least 15 houses on my street where the sundecks are having slapped up walls on them, and the garages converted to very cold places without proper insulation or anything, and they are thinking its ok to be doing this, because the renters cant be renting somewhere else being on welfare. The monster houses you are talking of, are not having suites just for family, but for renters too,many are poorer people, like other peoples who are not family, to pay the mortgage, right?

    If one family has a really big home and has 3 or 4 rentals in it, it can pay it off fast, and then the family can build another house for the other family members too, you know, like the other son and daughter. Then, pretty soon, they are all having houses with rental suites, and no family living in them, but regular people renting who have no good credits and happy to have no questions asking on applications.

    But it is making problems in my street area, because there are so many cars now, no one can visit with the parking ,and we also have so many drugged people around, because some of the houses who are renting are not caring about the people in them, as long as the rents are being paid.

    I think the mayor is not caring anymore about people not in her neighbourhood.

  6. Norman Farrell, on November 1st, 2009 at 2:50 pm Said: Do they decide for themselves which of the laws to follow or will they share with citizens a list of codes that can be safely ignored?
    ———————————————————-
    Norman, I insert this for those who have not seen before, Im sure you already have.

    “There are no laws for outlaws”

  7. On a 7100 sqare foot lot, total floor area allowed:
    Burnaby 4263 sq ft
    Coquitlam 5436 sq ft
    Langley 4476 sq ft
    Richmond 4241 sq ft
    Surrey only 3550 sq ft why?
    what are your views on shuting down more than 30000 suites which are also a violation of bylaws.
    when prople add a secondary suite there is a violation of city bylaws,plumbing,electrical inspections.
    why they are ok?

  8. Jas,

    I can’t speak to why other cities bylaws, and the reasons behind them, I can only speak about what I know about Surrey and it’s bylaws.

    You asked:
    “what are your views on shuting down more than 30000 suites which are also a violation of bylaws?”

    I have no issue with a single family home legally having a suite in their basement- provided it is up to code, safe and warm in winter. Legally meaning, it meets the zoning requirements, the electrical and plumbing,and the homeowner is taxed accordingly.

    This provides a much needed affordable housing resource that fits the needs of many people, including seniors, singles and small families.

    The monster home suites are in an entirely different category of housing. I compare them to the small apartment blocks inherent to the west side of Vancouver, like the ones in Fairview. As such, they should be taxed accordingly to compensate for the increased usage of city utilities.

    The problem is, they aren’t. And because the city has basically turned a blind eye to the whole situation, we are now in a spot where our infrastructure can’t keep up with the demand. The city was planned around single family homes, not monster homes with up to 20 people living in them. Clearly, that is not a single family home.

    Should we shut them all down? I think that would leave us with a homeless problem that would shame Surreyites more than some of us already are.

    Should the city continue to approve development permits of grossly oversized home to allow” extended family residents” ? No. Right now, stop all development permits of homes over a certain square footage until they get a handle on what is already done.

    Next, pass a bylaw that all ” single family homes” may have no more than 1 secondary suite per home. anything more must fall under the definition of an apartment block, and adhere to the zoning and safety requirements of such.

    Then, pass a motion to re-inspect all those current monster homes that are out there, and mail a notice to all homeowners, giving them a chance at unpenalized disclosure. Meaning, no trouble of they fess up and make their suites legal, and pay the appropriate taxes and utilities.

    I’m no city planner, but I am living and doing business in the heart of all these problems, and I think enough is enough. Get on with it, and make some truly progressive directives in this city Dianne.

    A long winded reply Jas, but I hoped you answered the question. I feel compassion for those people who are stuck in substandard housing by way of available income.

    No one deserves to be homeless, but neither should someone have to live in substandard housing just to have a home, and its high time the city addressed all of these issues.

  9. It is not what you know but WHO. Developers rule and when they want a piece of land to subdivide they know exactly who to ‘grease.’ Why else are there so many scandals which seem to get swept under the rugs. From Les in Chilliwhack to an up and coming one in Secheldt. Isn’t it amazing how the Girl Guide camp is now in the tax area of Secheldt? Who moved the boundary to make that prime parcel of land too expensive for the Guides? ( Shades of Sooke?) Which developer/vulture has done their homework to remove the covenant on the property? And boy did the mayor of Secheldt ever peddle a BS story on CBC over this deal. As for the Surrey’s monster homes civil charges seem to be in order on the builder/developers. There is something rotten in city hall for sure when bylaw enforcement is seemingly cancelled at the whim of council or senior staff. Do your job Mayor Watts that is what you were elected for.

  10. Hey everyone, look at this interesting comment on this province story, that contains some rather pointed allegations:

    http://www.theprovince.com/news/Surrey+city+councillors+admit+illegal+suites+homes/2171929/story.html

    I’ve cut and pasted it because the comments seem to disappear rather quickly at times, from the Province site.Is it possible that the Mayor is in another conflict of sorts?

    Read this:

    “Rattan
    November 02, 2009 – 1:28 PM

    If the mayor of a major city like Surrey can’t respect the city’s by-laws, what can you expect from the other residents?

    What has happened to all the loud talk about ethics that Surrey Mayor Dianne Watts once used to howl about?

    When I confronted Surrey Mayor Dianne Watts on Thursday about the business – Pro Line Fittings – that has been operating from many months now from her property at 3020 176th Street, she replied: “A business licence has been applied for as a home-based business. I am on five and a half acres.”

    But wasn’t she supposed to get a licence BEFORE starting a business?

    Watts replied evasively: “Well, they’ve already applied for the business licence and … in the short-term because they’re just waiting for the building to be completed where they’re moving.”

    When I asked her how long the business had been operating on her property, she claimed: “Oh, a couple of months.”

    However, many residents told me that the business had been running for many months and they had seen the pipes laying around the property as well as workers.

    When I asked Watts: “But are you generally allowed to run a business before actually getting the business licence?” she responded: “Well, you know what, it’s not my business, so if you want to talk to my husband, you can go right ahead and do that.”

    But I pointed out to her that it was on HER PROPERTY.

    After a slight hesitation, she replied, “Yes.”

    “So wouldn’t you have a responsibility too?” I asked.

    Watts replied in a tense tone: “Okay, as I said, business licence has been applied for and they’re waiting for a building to be completed. And it’s been there for a couple of months. So we’re storing some stuff there.”

    When I contacted the city’s by-law section, I was informed that Pro Line Fittings at 3020 176th Street had applied for a business licence. But they would not reveal the date when the business had applied for it because “it’s not a valid licence just yet.”
    It boggles the mind that Watts, who is supposed to set an example of following the city’s by-laws and who should be better informed than anybody else about these, did not advise her husband to follow the rules that she expects everybody else in the city to comply with.

    What was she smoking?

    What respect can Surrey residents have for such a mayor?

    Can she now expect to be taken seriously by others when she gives all that baloney about ethics?

    She sounded SO PATHETIC with her evasive replies to me instead of taking FULL RESPONSIBILITY for her husband’s actions. After all, they live in the SAME house. If Watts doesn’t know what’s going on in her OWN house, how can she be expected to know what’s going on in such a big city as Surrey?

    Also, can now every resident of Surrey first start a business and then apply for a licence and get away with breaking the by-laws”
    Well, I thought this was interesting, so I looked at the company website, which lists the mailing address as her address, and says the company was established in 2008.
    http://pro-linefittings.com/index.php

    I’ve sent this onto to a reporter at The Leader. I would like to know how long that business has been there, and when that business licence was applied for. Should be public information, as anyone can do business with them.

    As well, it says that they are ” wholesale municipal pipefitting suppliers ” – this leaves me wondering if they supply to the city of Surrey in any capacity..

  11. Paid attention to what’s been going on on the cloverdale flats lately? They make the land useless to earn a living and then buld monster homes in the middle of an acreage. From there buildings get added.
    Bit by bit the ALR is being cut up and sold.

    Dianne is just another stooge for dictator Gord. When are people going to wake up. She’s no better than her predecessor. Shame on you all.

  12. Hey del toro, didnt know you were such a fan. I am flattered you would actually go back and read my stuff.