News / Vancouver

Renters in Clayton Heights basement suites get reprieve - for now

Surrey suspends plan to shut down hundreds of illegal rental suites this winter, but still plans to decommission them at a later date.

Surrey’s Clayton Heights neighbourhood, where parking complaints sparked an order from the city to shut down hundreds of illegal basement suites. The city has now decided to suspend that plan.

Jennifer Gauthier / for metro Vancouver

Surrey’s Clayton Heights neighbourhood, where parking complaints sparked an order from the city to shut down hundreds of illegal basement suites. The city has now decided to suspend that plan.

Hundreds of renters in Surrey’s Clayton Heights can stay in their homes for at least a little longer after the city voted to suspend a plan to shut down illegal basement suites while staff plans for a long-term solution.

But after receiving thousands of complaints about parking congestion, the city still wants to eventually decommission the suites, said Coun. Bruce Hayne. 

“We could put a date on the future on it, or if the house is resold before that date that the suite has to be decommissioned and a restrictive covenant is put on title so the new owners know they absolutely can’t rent out a second suite,” Hayne said.  Currently all single-family lots are allowed to rent out only one suite, but many of the lots in Clayton Heights have a house, a basement suite and a coach house. 

Greg Garner is one of homeowners who was shocked to receive the order from the city to decommission the illegal second suite on his property. The original plan would have resulted in hundreds of renters in the Surrey neighbourhood losing their homes by the end of January, in a city where the rental vacancy rate is just 0.4 per cent. 

Systems to control parking, such as a residential parking permit system, will also be part of the staff review. The city has so far been reluctant to restrict residential parking. An interim report will be due in six months and Hayne hopes the current council can approve a final plan before the next municipal election in October 2018. 

Surrey will continue to collect a second suite fee from homeowners until council decides on a permanent solution, a move Garner interpreted as the city acting to legalize the suites. 

That’s not the case, Hayne said: “The vast majority of suites will be decommissioned over time, in a way that doesn’t create hardship for tenants.” To allow three units of housing on each single family lot would require neighbourhoods to be rezoned. Then there’s the extra cost to homeowners of bringing suites up to code, which would include installing a sprinkler system. 

Hayne said Surrey also needs to make sure there’s a place for renters to go when second suites are decommissioned. There have only been two purpose-built rental buildings constructed in Surrey in 30 years, and Hayne said the city will be working with developers to encourage more rental building construction. 

Surrey residents complain about multiple suites across the municipality, and not just in Clayton Heights, Hayne added. 

But Garner believes renters are unfairly targeted in complaints. A City of Surrey report notes that complaints about multiple suites include “renters parking commercial vehicles, excess garbage, unsightly property, criminal activity from renters, loud music, excessive partying.” 

“People can complain about whatever they want, at the end of the day are these founded complaints? Are they investigated?” Garner said.
“People all want to disparage renters and blame them for every sort of problem that has occurred in Clayton, when at the end of the day there’s no factual data to support these claims.

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