Over the past few weeks, a letter from the City of Surrey has been arriving in the mail. It is not addressed to the owner per say, but as unaddressed mail, which is something to note as you will read.
This letter contains information in regards to the City of Surrey's policy towards secondary suites. For years now, if the City thought you had (or maybe been informed by a third party) an unauthorized suite, they would send you a letter informing you that they understand you have this suite and would be adding a yearly increase onto your taxes (apprx. $539.00) for this. If you wanted to dispute the claim, you would have to allow their inspectors to come to the home and inspect for the suite. Two things to be clear on though, having a suite and not renting it out, does not mean you don't have a suite! Neither does having a suite, but having family live there (like Mom). The fact family lives in the suite only means there is no tenancy in place, but this is different from the definition of a physical "suite". Both examples are for all intents and purpose . . . a suite!
To have the City recind the increase requires their inspectors to verify (in their guidelines) that there is no suite in place. If you don't appeal the claim of the suite, then your taxes will automatically be increased to reflect the status of the suite's presence.
Back to the recent letter though . . . Surrey has now decided to take this a step further and encourage those with suites to come forward voluntarilly and register their home as having a suite. Same as before, taxes will be increased to reflect this. The major difference now . . . if you have a suite, but don't make this voluntary statement and then later, the City comes to you with the claim "you have a suite!" and you actually do. . . not only will your taxes be increased accordingly, but they will also hand you a fine of $1000.00.
All in all, we personally don't think the increase of taxes is a bad thing. With a suite comes increased water usage, sewer use, garbage, maybe children in school . . . all come with extra costs to the infastructure and in the end, everyone's tax bill. Think of this as sort of a "pay for use" system, although we are told this extra tax fee doesn't come close to covering the increased uses! Further, the City of Surrey isn't demanding you remove the suite (as in some neighbouring municipalities) and lose the income (rent) you may be receiving, which may well be the difference in paying your mortgage or not!
One thing to note on the letter when making your declaration that you have a suite, it states only one suite, as two suites is not allowed and Surrey will demand the removal of any second suites. Further down the letter, you will note that not only are you declaring to have only one suite, but you are also acknowledging that you are aware that having more than one suite is against the bylaws and that you also acknowledge you will lose the use of such if found to have two suites. In essence, if you are declaring to have only one suite, when you have two . . . you are basically now caught in your own lie and are acknowledging the fact that you are aware that two suites is against the bylaws. Read into this what you will, but we think if you get caught with two suites . . . the gigs up!!
We have had discussion on this letter since it started arriving in the mail and one glaring thing to note; the letter is delivered to the homes and not necessarily the owner. This means the tenant/s may have received the letter and not the owner of the home. Will a tenant pass the letter onto the owner? Or will the tenant fill out the claim and send it back? As there is a "due" date on making the declaration by, many owners are going to be unaware of this letter and won't have the opportunity to make a voluntary claim. In fairness to the City of Surrey, there has been articles in the local papers, but again, you would have to read the paper that arrives at your door and usually ends up decorating your neighbours front yard by morning!
One last point on all this, you will have noted we never used the word "legal" suite or like, this is because most suites are not legal in the sense they have passed inspections to code and meet local and provincial building and saftey guide lines. Most suites have not been inspected to code and remain unauthorized, even when the City increased the taxes. At this point we think you are safe to state the suite is "acknowledge" by the City as opposed to "now legal" or "authorized". There is a huge difference here, especially when selling your home!
What's your thoughts on this? We know this is a hot topic no matter where you live and each municipality has a different approach to handling suites. We think Surrey is taking a fair approach to this, what do you think?