Bylaw officers have been cracking down on landlords renting out illegal suites in Mission, leaving tenants on one street facing evictions and fearing homelessness.
Multiple property owners on Abercrombie Place have been caught having two rental units in their single-family residences, while the BC Building Code only permits one secondary suite. The tenants say it’s not fair they’re being punished for the landlords breaking the rules.
Tammy Myers has been living in her suite for five years, and was shocked when her landlord told her about the bylaw notice ordering them to be in compliance by the end of February or face daily $500 fines.
“That was the first I had heard of any illegality. I had no idea,” Myers said. “It was kind of a slap in the face to realize how good of a deal I was getting. You can’t even get a room in somebody’s house for what I’m paying now.”
Myers lives on a limited income through her disability payments, and said the eviction will make her homeless. She said her relationship with her landlords has always been great, and she gets a good deal, which she can’t find anywhere else.
She said her disability makes living with a roommate impossible, and she is not yet eligible for seniors’ housing .
Myers went with her mother in-law to look for other places to rent and couldn’t find anything in her price range. They found only one suite she could afford, and soon discovered it was also illegal and breaking provincial regulations.
“The point is, I could leave here, go somewhere else, be lied to, and be evicted again. I’m just beyond frustrated,” she said. “I’m almost on the verge of just breaking down.”
Craig Thomas, another tenant being evicted and next-door neighbour to Myers, said their evictions are a typical example of landlord impunity during the housing crisis.
He said when he moved in, his landlord assured him the suite was legal and that many property owners on the street were renting multiple suites.
“She specifically told me, ‘Oh no, everybody’s doing it,’” he said. “You take what you can get; you don’t pick anything anymore.”
Bylaw officers received at least one complaint about congested parking on Abercrombie Place, discovered four homes with multiple suites and requested them to be decommissioned, said Mike Younie, chief administration officer for the district. Since Jan. 1, they have received three other complaints related to multiple suites elsewhere in Mission.
While bylaw officers don’t actively seek out unauthorized suites, and try to work with landlords to minimize the impact on tenants, Younie said it will likely result in displacement. He added ticketing is a last resort, and they usually give two months before fines are levied on landlords.
“(The District of Mission) has no ability or discretion to waive provincial regulations that prohibit multiple suites in a single-family dwelling,” he said. “We will try and work with displaced tenants, particularly ones that are at risk of homelessness or have disabilities.”
District staff have been taking steps to address the “proliferation of illegal and unsafe suites in the municipality,” according to a report to council on Feb. 1.
They plan on creating a new and lenient regulatory framework and expansion program for secondary suites, an important type of housing in the context of increasing costs and a near-zero vacancy rate in the community. Council has agreed to hold a workshop with staff from various departments to review options and resource requirements.
There are more than 3,000 secondary suites in Mission (roughly 20 per cent of the district’s housing stock), and approximately 2,000 of these suites are considered unauthorized. Only 450 of them are in full compliance with municipal zoning rules and bylaws, according to the report, while an estimated 750 suites exist completely off the books.
“We know they are out there, but they haven’t been registered in any way,” said Don Sommer, director of development services. “People should not be living in garages, underneath stairs and other ridiculous things like that.”
The vast number of unauthorized suites have been an ongoing challenge to “effectively and consistently” enforce bylaws, Sommer said, resulting in many concessions and compromises, such as double billing the utilities of residences.
The report set out guiding principles for the upcoming expansion program, one of which was no displacement of renters unless absolutely necessary.
But in the case of multiple suites in a single-family residence, Sommer said they have to enforce compliance.
“It puts staff in a really difficult position,” he said. “It’s very difficult to turn a blind eye to that when we’re made aware of it.”
While the district’s expansion program aims to get landlords in compliance through graduated permitting, easy rules, and a minimal safety and build code threshold, some tenants renting illegal units for cheap will inevitably face evictions.
Thomas, who worked as a steel fabricator in Fall River before getting laid off six months ago, said he was living in a motel for two weeks prior to finding the suite on Abercrombie Place. While it wasn’t ideal, he said it was his only option.
“The city is working with the landlords. What about the tenant getting evicted on to the street during a pandemic?” Thomas said.