Maple Ridge could be changing its secondary suite bylaw to allow the units to be built in smaller homes, on smaller lots.
Not a good idea, at least for Albion, says Dave Callen, who lives on 102B Avenue and has had enough of illegal suites in homes for which they were not designed.
Callen says there’s no room in the small-lot environment of Albion, the suburb east of 240th Street, for secondary or basement suites.
“Take them out,” he says. “Have them removed.”
He says the bylaw specifies fines for non-compliance. “And they’re good ones, too. I wouldn’t want to pay one.”
Callen, a carpenter, has worked a lifetime in the construction business, including the last 15 years supervising reconstruction of fire-damaged buildings and estimates there are 10 illegal suites in the 100 or so homes in his area.
He’s worried about a fire in his neighbourhood, where the small homes are on small lots with small gaps of a few metres separating them, along with secondary suites, could create incendiary conditions.
It’s not a case of if a fire happens, it’s when, he says.
The municipality could also be held liable for damages if fire department trucks can’t get up the congested streets to respond to a call.
“We’ve talked about these things since 2003, with the bylaw … nothing happens.”
Callen says many fires are electrically caused, adding that homes in Albion only have 100-amp electrical supplies, designed only for one heating, cooking or living unit.
The suites are being put into three-storey homes totalling about 2,100 sq. feet on lots that are about 2,300 sq. feet. “They’re one step up from a townhouse,” he said.
Callen says secondary suites must have separate heating systems – but they don’t.
The living units in each house also should be sealed separately to prevent smoke penetration in the case of a fire.
The extra suites add to street congestion, as well. Callen says many residents already park on the road rather than at the back of their lots, and many garages aren’t used for vehicles but as workshops or businesses, or storage.
He’s lived in his home since August 2002 and says the builder did a good job with the homes and many people like living there.
“For the most part, people are happy with the homes and they have no problems with it. “They are like myself, wondering what is happening here, the secondary suites are going in.”
Since 2004, he’s made seven complaints to the District of Maple Ridge bylaws about people building suites in their basement, but has had no results.
Last November, he sent a registered letter to bylaws director Liz Holitzky.
“Nothing, absolutely no reply,” he said.
But Holitzky said she never received the letter and would remember if it was registered, saying she replies within a week to all correspondence.
“I don’t recall seeing it. I very seldom receive any registered mail, but I just don’t recall ever seeing it.”
She added most complaints about Albion concern parking. And theoretically, in the Albion area, which is R-3 zoning, there are no secondary suites because they’re simply not allowed.
“There aren’t any of them.”
If bylaws gets a complaint about a suite, once tenants have left, officers will request that wiring for the oven in the suite be removed from the outlet all the way to the breaker panel box.
If there’s a second complaint, homeowners will have to take out their sinks and cupboards. Contravening the bylaw can result in daily fines.
That happened last fall, Holitzky pointed out. Fire and safety issues often leave no option but to compel enforcement.
Maple Ridge fire chief Dane Spence said Albion’s narrow streets with cars parked on both sides can cause problems for fire trucks, but never enough to block access to emergency equipment.
“There’s nothing we can’t get through.” He added the department is about to present a new safety plan to Albion residents that will improve emergency access.
He disagreed that the small spaces between the homes would cause rapid spread of fires.
“We’ve had fires [in Albion] and we haven’t had a firestorm from one end to the other.”
He pointed out homes built after 2004 all have sprinkler systems.
Currently, only homes on lots larger than 6,000 sq. feet can have secondary suites, but a review may consider allowing them on smaller lots.