Illegal construction in this city continues unabated, according to one local builder who has watched unlawful construction occurring all around his Newton home over the past few years.
Andrew Houghton is outraged at the level of non-compliance with building rules around his home in the 14000 block of 79A Avenue.
The latest infraction occurred just down the lane from his place, and Houghton saw it coming as soon as construction started. There were several corner posts put in place to hold up future walls.
Once awarded the occupancy permits from the City of Surrey, Houghton said the builder took down the railing from the outdoor balcony and within two days, walls were erected and the now indoor space was finished.
The lower portion of the home under the deck was also filled in to make room for a larger area.
Houghton called a city bylaw official, who said there was nothing the department could do about it, and then referred him to Surrey’s building division.
The building inspector told him the situation was “rampant across the city” and that there was nothing she could do.
She referred referred him back to the bylaw department.
After The Leader began placing phone calls to the city about the address in question, a stop-work order was placed on the home, even though construction is largely completed.
Don Luymes, acting general manager of planning and development, acknowledged Thursday there’s a large volume of illegal construction in the city; more than a hundred homes currently have stop-work orders.
Luymes was unable to say how many of those homes have complied with the order, but the ones that don’t are referred to the city’s legal department.
City solicitor Craig MacFarlane said he was unable to determine right away how many of those cases are before the courts.
“I’d have to get back to you on that,” MacFarlane said Thursday, adding the city is pursuing legal action in numerous cases. Asked if any of the claims are for built-in decks, MacFarlane said “there are different building infractions.”
For Houghton, a builder with 30 years experience, the situation is frustrating. He says there is no political will in Surrey to do anything about it.
“I’m not against anyone having a suite, but it seems like it’s always these illegal suites and the streets are filled with cars,” Houghton said.
The problem isn’t new.
Two-and-a-half years ago, city building inspectors said they felt like their jobs had become a joke after Surrey council dropped litigation against more than 70 illegal and unsafe homes just weeks before the civic election.
The construction in those cases was undertaken almost exactly as Houghton described to The Leader this week.
Two years ago, the president of the Canadian Union of Public Employees, Local 402, was distressed by the situation.
“When you’re trained to do a job, then you’re trained to ignore it for whatever reason, it really is demoralizing,” Laurie Larsen said at the time.
“We have quite a few inspectors and quite a few bylaw officers that are most affected, who really feel like the public is laughing at them – like ‘you can’t touch me,’ that kind of attitude.”
When asked about it this week, Larsen – now who is now a school trustee – said she hadn’t heard further complaints from the building inspectors.
“The inspectors have not recently brought that to my attention,” Larsen said. “Either it isn’t an issue, or other things are more important, or they’ve just resigned themselves to the fact that nothing can be done.”
Larsen, who works in the city’s building division, said it’s come to the point where people just ignore stop-work orders imposed by Surrey.
“I think not only that, not only do they build, they sell it, and the person who buys it isn’t even aware that it hasn’t been permitted properly,” Larsen said, adding the issue is not easy on the CUPE membership. “It’s not, and it wasn’t in the past.”
Coun. Bob Bose said he’s been hearing from residents for years asking council to enforce its own bylaws.
“It’s an outrage,” he said. “Staff aren’t provided the resources or the direction to do anything about it.”
Mayor Dianne Watts said it’s not acceptable that the city’s bylaws are not being enforced.
“There should be a stop-work order put on it and it (the unlawful building) torn out,” Watts said.
She doesn’t agree with the building inspector who characterized the situation as rampant across this city.
“I disagree with that,” Watts said. “We have building guidelines and bylaws in place they need to follow. Bylaws and building should be out there.”
She said she’d be looking into the situation to ensure it’s rectified.