“The appraiser stands at the foot of the empty lot, asked to assess its value — as if the home to be is already built.
He comes armed with floor plans sent to the city for approval.
In his eight years on the job in Surrey, he’s now seen thousands just like this.
The plans show an outlying deck and a basement with rec rooms, kids rooms, sewing rooms — “all these rooms that make no sense,” he tells The Province.
He is then handed another set of floor plans, either by the builder or homeowner.
“The revised floor plan? They show secondary suites going in,” says the appraiser, who estimates there are up to 40,000 illegal suites in the city — nearly double the 20,000 previously reported.
“The day (homeowners) get their final occupancy, the day it’s done — they enclose the rear patio and now you’ve just added another 1,000 square metres to your house.”
Not only are thousands of Surrey’s homeowners collecting undeclared income, he says, they are also saving on taxes when the suites are popped into place after city approval.
The owner of an in-demand design firm in Surrey says he’s aware of the illegal suite issue, but insists his company creates plans in accordance with zoning requirements.
“We discuss with the homeowners/ home builders as to their requirements and then prepare house plans,” he said.
“Our design company plays no role during or in the construction of the homes.”
“Of the nearly 4,000 residences developed in Surrey in 2012, 1,500 were single family units, namely in Newton and South Surrey.
The city issued permits for 427 secondary suites at 67 coach houses in 2012.
Surrey’s manager of bylaw enforcement, Jas Rehal, says his staff and the city’s building department communicate their bylaws and policies to developers.
“Generally, they’re abiding,” he said.
“These suites in Surrey, they’re all over the city,’ said Rehal. “When brought to our attention, we go out there, state the fee … once a suite is identified, we start billing.”
Annual fees for a secondary suite range between $500 and $1,300, which includes infrastructure costs such as garbage pickup and water use.
It can cost a homeowner up to $10,000 to properly outfit a home with separate piping, wiring and a firewall to make a suite legal.”
Jesse (YVRHousing) calls these suites ‘townhouses rotated 90 degrees’, and we think that’s spot on.
They are products of high prices: owners build and manage them to allow themselves to over-reach on price in the hope of further price increases.
This is an inefficient, clumsy and ugly way for a city to increase density.