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Village of Pemberton working to remove some illegal suites—but where will the tenants go?

Increased utilities and removal of secondary suites expected for Tiyata Village homes in Pemberton
Mount Currie in Pemberton, B.C.

The Village of Pemberton (VOP) is working to remove non-conforming suites in the Tiyata Village neighbourhood—but it’s not clear how many tenants will be affected, or where they will find new housing.

On May 30, the VOP sent a letter to registered homeowners in the neighbourhood informing them of an impending inspection to identify houses with an illegal secondary suite, and the subsequent removal of those suites.

“It has come to the Village’s attention that several properties in Tiyata Village may contain non-conforming secondary suites,” read the letter, which asked homeowners who do not have a secondary suite to complete a Statutory Declaration Form stating such and submit it to the Village by Wednesday, June 15.

“Please note that if you do not submit a statutory declaration, the Village will assume you have a non-conforming secondary suite. This is in contravention of the CD-5 zoning and will result in being billed the utility rate for a single-family home plus secondary suite and enforcement action being taken for the suite to be removed.”

Houses with a secondary suite will have to pay the $1779.50 rate for a single-family home plus secondary suite until the suite is removed, at which point utilities will be adjusted back to the $1186.45 single-family rate.

A secondary suite is defined as a self-contained, habitable unit that is located within the same building as the principal residence, but with its own separate entrance. Secondary suites are not allowed in the Tiyata Village neighbourhood due to the zoning regulations established before development.

“The zoning for Tiyata Village was initiated in or around 2012 and adopted in 2014.  The zoning established the CD-5 Zone, which was for a small lot subdivision, and due to the small lot concept and design, secondary suites were not contemplated as a permitted use due to the density of the area,” said a VOP spokesperson, in an email. “Through several zoning amendments and reviews this direction did not change.”

When asked what the removal of the suites means for anyone currently living in one, and how much time will be given to people to relocate, the VOP could not give a detailed answer, instead stating, “the Village will work with individual property owners through any transition that may be required and will provide generous timelines,” after removal of the suites. A spokesperson could not clarify what is considered a “generous” amount of time.

For people like Maria Bravo, who signed a two-year lease and moved into one of the suites in January—and even had a municipal inspector come check out the place and sign off on it before she did—this means the eventual loss of the home where she, her partner and their six-year-old son currently reside.

“That would be terrible for us. We were not alerted of anything yet, our landlord lives on the Island and hasn’t told us anything. And with housing here in Pemberton, it’s so hard to find something long-term. We already pay $2,000 a month plus utilities that are basically like $600 or more … which is still a lot for normal people,” she said.

“It’s really frustrating to deal with the Village. They feel like with a letter they have informed everyone and that’s not accurate. Most homeowners do not live here, and their tenants don’t always get the correct information, so everything is not done correctly.”

While it’s not yet clear how many suites like this exist in the area, Bravo and her family surely aren’t the only tenants of an illegal suite, especially considering many of the homes in the area were either built with suites already included or in a way that a suite could easily be added, according to Tiyata homeowner Paul Auger.

“The house was built with the intent of having a suite in it. If you walk into the house and take a look, we could partition off one wall and that would enclose a complete one-bedroom suite,” he said. “It's there, ready to be used, the wall just has to be built up and then it’s its own suite. So there's probably a lot of houses that were built that way and some of them probably have full ensuites in them.”

Bravo and her family, as well as any others in the same situation who are already established in the village with housing and jobs but will need to relocate when the village removes their suites, are set to join an already overcrowded housing market in Pemberton.

For a quick glimpse into what the housing market is like in Pemberton, you don’t have to look much further than the Tiyata neighbourhood itself.

One Tiyata homeowner, who requested to remain unnamed, tried to rent out the suite that was already attached to her house at the time of purchase, only for the posting to be quickly reported and taken down due to rentals in that neighbourhood not conforming to the zoning bylaws.

However, in the few days before it was removed, she said she received “44 messages of people desperately looking for a place to live.”

With housing representing one of the biggest ongoing issues in Pemberton, homeowners in the Tiyata neighbourhood, like Auger, understand why secondary suites aren’t allowed in the already compact neighbourhood, even though he believes it is “unfortunate” that these houses, ready-made for suites, can’t help alleviate some of the town’s housing problems.

But the question remains, if the neighbourhood was not zoned for secondary suites, why were suite-ready houses approved for the neighbourhood in the first place?

When asked that question, the village responded that “some houses in Tiyata were built with space on the ground floor that included some amenities typically found in a secondary suite,” but the builders were advised secondary suites were not permitted and were required to disclose that to potential buyers.