Editorial — Drive to identify illegal suites is in slow gear

The Township’s approach to illegal suites is a curious one. It seems to be driven, first and foremost, by a need for more revenue.

Langley Township’s drive to identify illegal suites seems to be moving quite slowly.

Almost two years after council adopted  a new approach to illegal suites, and after a year of “stepped-up enforcement,” staff have identified about 600 illegal suites in the more than 39,000 individual dwellings within the Township. Earlier in 2014, it was predicted that staff would identify close to 1,000 illegal suites by the end of the year.

When Langley City announced that it would legalize secondary suites in 2006, and also stated that those who did not apply for legalization would face $3,350 in fees at the end of 2007, 667 applications to legalize suites were made — in a City with one-fifth the population of the Township.

The Township’s approach to illegal suites is a curious one. It seems to be driven, first and foremost, by a need for more revenue. Secondarily, there is a legitimate concern about safety standards, as many suites are installed without building permits and there can be safety issues.

The City, on the other hand, determined almost a decade ago that it needed to know just how many illegal suites there were — to address safety standards, and to have an accurate idea of how many housing units exist in the City.  The desire to make money was secondary.

Secondary suites, whether they are legal or illegal, are a much-needed form of housing today. Rents are very high and there is a need for a more affordable type of accommodation. At the same time, with housing costs being so high, many homeowners need an extra source of income to be able to pay their mortgage.

While the Township needs to know how many suites it has, for the same reasons that the City does, its “revenue first” approach has prevented many people from stepping forward. Meanwhile, it has penalized those with legal suites by assessing annual fees that are quite high.

Its approach has kept people from co-operating, and means that it could take years to identify most of the  secondary suites in the Township.

Many municipalities have wrestled with the suite issue, and there have been a wide variety of approaches to the issue. The Township’s approach does not seem to be working very well thus far.

Langley Times