Legalizing suites 'way overdue': TRAC

It's about time that Burnaby is considering legalizing secondary suites, according to a local tenants advocacy group.

"Burnaby is the last major municipality in Metro Vancouver to even contemplate it, it's way overdue," said Tom Durning, spokesperson for the Tenant Resource & Advisory Centre (TRAC).

Durning was commenting on a recent NewsLeader story that Burnaby city hall is looking into the possibility of legalizing secondary suites as part of efforts to encourage affordable housing options in the city.

Currently, apart from in-law suites which must be inhabited by family members, all secondary suites are illegal. Essentially, all it takes to shut them down and displace the tenants is for a neighbour to complain in writing to city hall.

That's just what happened to Cariboo Hill resident Amanda McCracken, a 33-year-old single mother who's facing eviction after such a complaint from a neighbour resulted in a visit by a city bylaw enforcement officer.

Durning called on Burnaby city hall to place a moratorium on all such evictions and shutting down of suites until it decides whether to legalize suites.

As for Coun. Dan Johnston's comments that in the past, the city's legal department has raised concerns about liability issues with legalizing suites that have not been built up to B.C. Building Code standards, Durning called it "an excuse," noting other municipalities haven't been concerned about the issue.

"The thing that disappoints me, it's 10 years ago this year the City of Vancouver legalized them. If Burnaby would've done it 10 years ago, how many safe and legal units would have gone in? Maybe hundreds. That's when you build a new house you can wire in the suite, the whole bit."

Whether the city requires secondary suites to meet code requirements, even at great expense to homeowners, is up to Burnaby, he said.

"But at least they'll allow them (suites)."

Burnaby is the last of the larger cities in the region to not allow secondary suites. By legalizing them, "Burnaby would take away the effective power of anybody ratting on their neighbour for personal reasons, that's what usually happens."

As for the idea that such an implicit threat serves to encourage landlords to find good tenants who won't make too much noise or disturb the neighbourhood, Durning said, "what's the difference between that and a family? And what about a homeowner? There's as many problematic homeowners as there are basement suites.

"It's this misconception that if you don't own you're a second-class citizen. It's not that way. If there is a problem suite then it's up to the landlord to deal with it."

He added that "there's 40,000 people moving to the Lower Mainland every year, we need all the housing we can get. So Burnaby has to do its bit."

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