Overcrowded homes under investigation 

Fire Rescue Services say problem is widespread

Whistler Fire Rescue Services is cracking down on homeowners breaking the Fire Code and stuffing their bedrooms full of too many renters.

The issue, which is pervasive throughout Whistler in both short-term and longer-term rental accommodation, has been an ongoing problem in the resort. But as the 2010 Winter Olympic Games draws near, Whistler Fire Rescue Services will be ramping up its efforts to let homeowners know that overcrowding bedrooms with renters is a serious life safety issue and they could have their business closed down.

"We’re on the world stage," said Assistant Fire Chief Rob Whitton. "We can’t tolerate this stuff. If something happens in this town it will be worldwide news and the municipality will not take responsibility for that.

"We’re working towards the Olympics and this is going to be something that we really have to keep an eye on and, once it gets close to that time, there will be no leeway in this from a fire service perspective. If you’re found doing something outside the purview of the code, we’re already talking about immediate closure of the building, period. No break in time, no reduction. It’s closure. We don’t want to have the risk."

Whitton is actively involved in seven investigations right now. In one case every unit in an entire complex is operating outside the boundaries of the B.C. Fire Code. He would not reveal the addresses of those under investigation because it is a confidential, ongoing matter.

The code is crystal clear – in Whistler there can be no more than 10 people sleeping in a single family home.

Whitton explains how the code works: only two people are allowed per sleeping room in a dwelling unit. That means a four-bedroom house can accommodate only eight people. In Whistler there are no legal single-family homes with more than five bedrooms and so, there can be no more than 10 people sleeping in a home in Whistler.

There are some anomalies. For example, if a house is zoned as a pension or a hostel there could be more people living under the one roof. However, there are extra fire safety measures required, such as a specific fire alarm system.

Despite the laws, local businessman John Richmond, who operates a tourist accommodation business with his two homes in Cedar Ridge, says there are landlords blatantly breaking the law.

A simple search of accommodation websites shows just how easy it is to advertise your home for rent for as many as 12, 14 and 15 people, said Richmond.

He points out a five-bedroom townhouse with a ski in/ski out location advertised on a website mid-February, stating it has a maximum occupancy of 14 people. They advertise one king bed, four queen and four single beds in the house.

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