Letter: Township driving away registrations with suite expenses

Dear Editor,

I have an unregistered suite in my home that is occupied by my elderly parents.

I went into the Township engineering department for information about bringing the basement suite into legal status.

The suite was in our home when we bought it. It was perfect for my wife and me, and for my parents. The suite was built to high standards: granite counters, hardwood flooring, electric fireplace, tiled bathroom with easily accessible shower and a tub, etc.

When we heard council was adopting a policy to register all suites, I went to inquire as to what we would need to do to bring the suite into compliance.

The lady I spoke with seemed to be more interested in obtaining my name and address than giving me guidance on what would be needed to make it legal.

She did not know much about any of the requirements, but did say the City of “Surrey” merely advertised that all suites needed to be registered and brought up to building code specs, but those who are either financially unable to do so, or those willing to sign a waiver absolving the City of any liability if the suite was permitted without updating the building code requirements, would be permitted to maintain the suite without making the changes.  

She also explained that the Township would decide the disposition of each suite, on an individual basis, by relaxing the requirements where the suites were close to meeting the requirements but still short of fulfilling them.

That makes sense, as well, but who decides how much the rules could or would be relaxed and how many home owners would register their suites based on such a statement?

For example, most suites are boarded with half-inch drywall, while the fire code requires 3/4-inch on all ceilings of suites and perimeter walls over support beams.

One personality conflict between homeowner and inspector, and the situation changes in an instant.

Another example is installation of rock sol fireproof insulation instead the 3/4-inch board where the insulation is already in place. She did not know if that was acceptable, either.

Then, hard-wired smoke detectors in each bedroom, as well as in the hallway, is without a doubt overkill on safety when the suite is already in, and I back that up with the millions of homes that don’t have smoke detectors upstairs in the bedroom.

I was a firefighter for 30 years in Calgary, but for some reason, the fire department in the Township seems to think spending thousands of dollars tearing out walls and ceilings to run wires and thicker board through an existing suite is a reasonable request. It isn’t!

It is safer, but not reasonable for existing suites.

Our house has hard-wired detectors, both up and down in the hallway, as per older fire codes, but a suite upgrade seems to be something that ratifies excess safety of those at a heavy expense to the homeowner.

Another requirement is a smoke detector in the vent system when both up and down use the same central heat source.

I can agree with that, because it can be done far more reasonably by simply installing one in the exhaust portion of the plenum that shuts off the furnace, and in doing so, prevents the spread of smoke from one level to the other.

The Township wants to see dampers in addition to those detectors. A separate damper for each vent that is shared by the suite and the upstairs each requiring wiring to the furnace from each room with a heat vent.

Or it would require baseboard heating instead of a shared system, and many homes with a 100-amp service would then need to upgrade the main panel to a 200-amp service, at a cost of five to ten thousand dollars.

I realize the Township needs more money, but an extra $400 per year per suite registered, at a cost to the homeowner of between $5 thousand and $35 thousand is simply unnecessary.

Council needs to consider going the way Surrey has gone. You still get your extra $400 a year, your constituents with unregistered suites would come forth in droves, and the needs of everyone would be served rationally and reasonably.

I cannot afford to be placed into a situation where I would be forced to destroy a $40,000 basement suite to add $35,000 worth of upgrades while my aged parents would need to live in the dust and construction debris for up to six months while this is all going on.

As such, I hope to get away without registering the suite, at least until my parents have passed.

Council must consider what the Township’s strategy is doing to large numbers of residents. There will be numerous families that will either need to sell their homes or go bankrupt. They won’t be able to front the cost of the upgrades, because they use the suite just to be able to make their mortgage payment – people who innocently purchased a home without thinking an unregistered suite was a big deal. My parents, who have put all of their savings into this arrangement, will lose most of their investment.

D. Renatto, Langley Township

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