Drug users and loud partiers descend each night on a trio of North Surrey rental homes. In the evening, yelling and fights are commonplace, with people shacking up in gazebos, constructing makeshift sheds and pitching tents in the yards.
RCMP respond, create a file, and leave. Each home has had in excess of 100 police visits.
It’s a regular occurrence playing out at three homes in the Bolivar Heights area of North Surrey.
The following day, neighbours are stared down by the unwelcome residents, with one senior telling The Leader he feels like a prisoner in his own home.
Asking that he remain anonymous due to fears for his safety, the man says he’s terrified by some of the people in the “flop houses” near 110 Avenue and 142 Street.
He’s lived in his home for 50 years – some of his neighbors have lived there even longer – and says he has never seen anything like what’s going on.
He keeps everything on his property under lock and key and has installed surveillance cameras.
“We live in fear in each one of our houses,” he says. “We can’t go away, we’re basically prisoners in our own homes… There’s no way we should have to live like this.”
The three properties under fire are owned by two Surrey residents.
Adding to the frustration, the situation is indirectly funded by the province, which sends the housing portion of the residents’ social assistance cheques directly to the homeowners.
The city would like to crack down using existing bylaws, but the province refuses to sign an affidavit confirming how many people live in each house (see accompanying story).
Conditions in the homes are outrageous, nearby residents say.
In one house, power and cable have been fed into a garage where people are living, and last weekend, more people had pitched tents on the lawn.
There are also padlocks on the outside of doors, making the houses a potential deadly fire trap, witnesses say.
Residents have served the city with a 125-name petition asking civic officials to restore order to their neighbourhood.
The petition says the quiet community has been ruined.
“Our sleep is continually disrupted with fighting, police and ambulance sirens, and the worry that one of the renters might try to break into our home and harm us while we are sleeping,” the petition says. “We have to bear this daily.”
Conditions in the neighbourhood are only getting worse, the man who spoke to The Leader says.
“We are living in constant fear. Neighbours are barricading their doors when they sleep. I can’t go out during the day, these people steal everything they can get their hands on.”
Surrey Bylaw Manager Jas Rehal says the city has a few homes like these “popping up” from time to time.
He notes the North Surrey trio of homes – on 110 Avenue, 142 Street and Hansen Road – is the worst the city has had to deal with to date.
All efforts to gain compliance from the owners have failed, he says, so the case is going to court.
In the meantime, neighbours remain barricaded in their homes, many now outfitted with new alarms and surveillance cameras.
Despite all that, sleeping at night is a challenge.
“I’m afraid, I’m scared for my life,” the area resident says tearfully.
B.C. blocking Surrey clean-up
Three houses causing havoc in North Surrey remain there in part because the province refuses to confirm how many people are living in them.
The residences, owned by two North Surrey residents, have become home to several addicts and dealers, locals say. Many of the inhabitants are on social assistance and have their housing cheques sent directly to the homeowner.
After trying to remedy the situation for close to a year-and-a-half, Surrey is taking Shamima Bi to court over what it says are rooming houses at two locations in Surrey.
Court documents obtained by The Leader indicate one of the main obstacles for the city is obtaining an affidavit from the province indicating how many people it’s funding to live in the homes.
Surrey hired Vancouver lawyer Don Howieson to take Bi to court.
Howieson would not comment on the case.
However, court documents obtained by The Leader indicate a high level of frustration with the province over its refusal to back the city in support of its bylaws.
In a Feb. 20 letter to the ministry, Howieson describes the homes with as many as 10 tenants “all who live in separate, locked sleeping rooms.”
In a response to the statement of claim, Bi says a property on 13901 Hansen Rd. only contains two living units.
She also claimed she rents the property at 11409 142 St. in accordance with City of Surrey zoning bylaws and does not operate a rooming house on the property.
“The defendant does not operate a boarding house,” writes Bi’s lawyer, Robert Campbell, who also a Delta councillor.
A letter contained in an affidavit submitted by the city indicates the importance of co-operation from Victoria in bringing order back to the neighbourhood.
“We must ensure that the evidence is there to prove that the occupancy of each of the dwelling houses is that of a lodging house,” Howieson writes in a Feb. 20 letter to Ian Stewart, litigation analyst with the Ministry of Social Development and Social Innovation.
“If we do not have the evidence from the ministry, we shall be unable to meet that burden.”
In a March 3, 2015 email to Howieson, Stewart refuses to furnish the city with an affidavit.
“It is our understanding that providing this information to you in the form and manner requested would not be authorized by law,” Stewart writes.
None of the claims made in the court documents have been proven in court.