The ongoing debate about secondary suites in Langley continued to heat up during an evening Township council meeting on Monday, Feb. 25.
Council gave third reading to charge an annual fee to landlords operating a rental unit — a motion that Councillor Kim Richter argued should be amended to include consideration for a hardship appeal process, adding even more fuel to the fire.
Richter expressed concern the fee — expected to range between $350 and $580, depending on sewer and water hookups — could be a disadvantage to many in the community, including lower income families, those living on rural properties who don’t have access to water, sewer or garbage pickup, as well as residents who have their elderly parents residing with them.
“I think there is some considerations we need to put in place here and the first consideration is an amendment to the bylaw to include some sort of appeal process.”
The motion was struck down by fellow councillors, including Councillor Bob Long, who said “this may not be the perfect time in history to put this in.
“I don’t know how much it’s going to mess up the budget if it doesn’t go through,” he said.
Ramin Seifi, the director of community development, noted that there is an enshrined mechanism in place to finalize and clarify cases where a family member is occupying a secondary suite and is not generating revenue.
“If it is deemed to not be incurring or imposing additional burden on the municipality, there would be no requirement for a licensing fee,” he said.
Mayor Jack Froese expressed concern that having one home with an exemption to the fee would put them at an unfair advantage to their neighbour — a sentiment shared by Councillor Michelle Sparrow.
“It’s $20 to $40 a month we are talking about,” said Sparrow matter-of-factly. “I don’t see how that is hardship enough that we need start giving exemptions — I think this fee does cover the extra costs that are incurred for these services as well as to make sure these suites are legal and safe for our community.”
Councillor Charlie Fox argued that those citizens who have already registered their suites shouldn’t be dinged the fee.
“I think that if you’ve been up front and you’ve done the right thing you shouldn’t be paying when someone next door is doing the wrong thing,” he said.
Mayor Jack Froese didn’t see a need to make any amendments to the bylaw.
“I’d be accepting this bylaw as it stands right now.”
A report on the proposed fee by Robert Cesaretti, manager of permit licence and inspection services, estimates the number of illegal suites has almost doubled in six years. According to the report, there are currently 10,000 to 12,000 illegal secondary suites in the township.