Slow start to Township’s secondary suite crackdown

Five months in, only 50 files have been opened, council hears

Beverly Weller

Eight months after a crackdown on illegal secondary suites was approved, Langley Township investigators have opened about 50 files.

The slow start is blamed on a lack of enforcement staff and a surge of applications to license secondary suites.

A staff update was presented to council on Monday, Nov. 4 by Beverly Weller, Licence and Inspection Services Co-ordinator for Community Development.

In response to a question by councillor Charlie Fox, Weller estimated “50 to 60 files” on suspected illegal suites have been opened since Township council approved “a more proactive approach in enforcing unauthorized secondary suites” in March of this year.

That was the same time council imposed an annual secondary suite licence fee on homeowners with authorized suites.

Councillor Kim Richter said the new licence fees were approved with the understanding the Township would use the revenue to go after the estimated 10,000 to 12,000 illegal secondary suites operating in Langley.

“I’m a little bit disappointed with the numbers,” said Richter.

“We’ve got to show good faith to the owners of legal suites.”

Richter said she would like to see at least half of the illegal suites identified by the end of next year.

“We do need to see some signs of significant progress.”

Richter was the only member of council to vote against the fees back in March, saying the 1,000 homeowners who have properly registered their suites would be the first to pay as much as $580 a year.

Weller said the slow start was because staff have been busy fielding time-consuming licence applications under the new rules from owners of secondary suites.

Staff have proposed adding one full-time enforcement officer to hunt for illegal suites, but that won’t be decided until next year’s municipal budget is set.

The new rules allow staff to go looking for illegal secondary suites instead of waiting for someone to complain about them.

During a one-week period, Weller said Township staff located 15 to 20 illicit secondary suites just by looking through online rental ads.

The new rules also allow people to make anonymous complaints.

A homeowner with an illegal second suite could face fines of up to $500 a day.

Township administrator Mark Bakken said the new regulations should generate enough revenue to cover the cost of stepped-up enforcement, but it will probably take a year before enough money is coming in.

“The challenge is going to be the cash flow,” Bakken said.

“[But] at the end of the day, it’s going to finance itself.”

Back in March, staff were estimating the new suite fees will bring in $203,650 (after expenses) this year, rising to $667,400 by 2015.

Councillor Bob Long said the Township should be careful to avoid “funding an army” to enforce the new rules.

“There’s a lot of staff time involved,” Long warned.

“It’s a ton of work.”

Staff are scheduled to prepare a progress review for presentation to council early next year that will include “recommendations relating to alternative enforcement approaches as necessary to ensure that unauthorized suites are brought into compliance with Township bylaws.”

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