Moving to modernize suites bylaw

Streets in Albion small-lot subdivisions are 'disgusting’: Coun. Hogarth.

It’s time to get tough with ‘tiny town,’ a Maple Ridge councillor said during a district review of rules on secondary suites.

“Country Lane, we should go down and shut down every one of those suites that exist in Country Lane,” said Coun. Al Hogarth.

“If you want to see unsafe conditions, go down there and take a look. It’s disgusting as far as I’m concerned. I think we have to buck up and stand up and take a real stance on this.”

Hogarth was commenting as council reviewed staff ideas for tuning up the bylaw that regulates secondary suites, which aren’t allowed in the small-lot subdivision east of 240th Street along 102nd Avenue.

Suites have been allowed since 1999 in homes on lots of 557 sq. metres or larger, providing the owner of the property lives on site.

Hogarth, a realtor, said Albion’s narrow roads and small lots are creating parking problems, congestion and safety issues. People are using the parking stalls for everything but storing their vehicles.

The small lots were created to provide affordable homes, but owners instead now are installing secondary suites to further help with costs in homes for which they weren’t designed.

“If you can’t afford that single family, smaller lot home without augmenting it for the mortgage, then you probably shouldn’t be owning that type home. You should have been moving into a townhouse or one of the other diverse type housing we have,” he added later.

Last year, Hogarth managed a rental home in Port Haney that was raided by police three times within 12 months.

Five people were arrested at the heritage house on St. Anne’s Avenue, at 223rd Street, after police executed a search warrant. Methamphetamine, crack cocaine, marijuana, magic mushrooms, Oxycontin, Tylenol 3s, and heroin were seized.

Hogarth says the Residential Tenancy Branch makes it difficult to remove bad tenants.

According to bylaws director Liz Holitzki, Albion doesn’t present any more safety or parking or suite problems than any other area.

“Right now, we don’t have any number of complaints in any one area.”

Several suggestions for changing the secondary suites bylaw came after getting the public’s two cents’ worth last year.

One idea is to create a new housing zone that would specifically allow three-plexes and four-plexes, homes with three or four suites that small investors could build, and thus increase the supply of rental units.

Planner Diana Hall said that staff heard “loud and clear” that secondary suites are part of affordable housing and that suites must be located in homes occupied by owners.

Allowing homes to be built with back doors into the basement makes “construction of illegal suites quite easy to do.”  But those should be banned in small-lot homes such as in Albion, staff say.

Other parts of a revised secondary suites bylaw:

• continue to use a complaint-driven enforcement approach on second suites;

• allow secondary suites in CD-1-99 and in R-1 zones, basically small urban lots, but keep them out of the smaller lots of 213 sq. metres in Albion;

• parking rules though should stay the same, requiring two stalls for homeowners and one stall for the secondary street tenants, recognizing, there’s no way of requiring people to park in those stalls rather than on the roads.

• change the district’s long-term plan to encourage builders to rough in fire-separation walls, electrical and plumbing to allow easier and cheaper future conversion of basements into full suites.

A tough part of the bylaw is what to do with temporary residential units, little suites built for family members of homeowners.

Staff are proposing to ban those in R-3 or small lots of 213 sq. m., because they can easily be converted to secondary suites.

Coun. Judy Dueck though said people depend on that type of accommodation. “There are all kinds of families that need this situation.”

Hogarth suggested that anyone who has a secondary suite should be required to have a licence for that suite. That would make it easier to enforce tidiness or safety bylaws.

He also favoured legalizing homes with two non-owner occupied suites, saying they can be maintained as well as an owner-occupied house.

He also was concerned about possible liability against the district should a fire or accident happen in a suite for which the district is collecting extra utility fees, but on which it’s not enforcing building code or safety requirements.

Council will vote later on which changes to make to the bylaw.