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Burnaby resident concerned about 'windowless bedrooms' in rental units

“In the absence of a bedroom window, the safety concern of overheating remains.”

A Burnaby resident is concerned rental units without bedroom windows pose a public safety risk during extreme heat.

Reinhard Schauer wrote a letter to city council pointing to two developments where the non-market rental units do not include windows in the bedrooms.

One development is a 34-storey tower at 6556, 6566, 6580 and 6596 Marlborough Ave. with a four-storey affordable rental component.

“The architectural diagrams … suggest minimum-sized one-bedroom replacement units with no window in the bedroom, and in the case of Accorde’s development, no balcony either,” Schauer wrote.

He expressed concern about cooling and ventilation in the buildings “when temperatures rise again to 42 C,” noting that 63 Burnaby residents died during the 2021 heat dome, “most because of inadequate indoor cooling.”

The “replacement units” are those earmarked for renters who currently live at the site and will be displaced by the development. Burnaby’s rental-use zoning policy requires developers to offer replacement units to all “demovicted” renters at the rates they previously paid.

Schauer also pointed to a 38-storey development at 5900 Olive Ave., which was approved at council on Feb. 6, which includes a three-storey rental building with “windowless” one-bedroom units.

“While this building offers tiny balconies, in the absence of a bedroom window, the safety concern of overheating remains,” he wrote.

Staff replied to Schauer: “While the B.C. Building Code does not require a window in a bedroom, a bedroom must have access to natural light and ventilation,” adding the proposed developments “meet and exceed” the requirements of the B.C. Building Code and Burnaby bylaws.

At a council meeting on Feb. 6, Coun. Maita Santiago asked how tenants would be able to get relief during another heat wave and if the units had access to light and ventilation.

The city’s general manager of planning and development, Ed Kozak, said while the bedrooms don’t have windows, the units themselves have windows.

“The bedrooms have the opportunity for receiving borrowed light from the window that is also within the unit,” he said, noting windows do not make a bedroom and are not a requirement in the building code.

He was unsure if these particular units were air conditioned but said, “They are under new construction that are typically very energy efficient, and the temperature control is usually quite precise.”

Coun. Pietro Calendino said bedrooms without windows were “an issue of concern” and asked staff to report back on ways to ask developers to include air exchange or air flow if there is no window in a bedroom.

The development on Marlborough Avenue includes a total of 88 rental units, which is more than Burnaby’s policy requires. Thirty-six of those rentals are replacement units that will be rented at the pre-development rate or 20 per cent below the area’s median according to Canada Mortgage and Housing Corp.’s data (in 2022, the median rent for a one-bedroom in Metrotown was $1,423).

There will also be five rental units at 20 per cent below CMHC median and 47 vacancy-controlled market rentals. The building proposes another 218 market strata units.

The development on Olive Avenue includes 339 market strata units, 71 below-market replacement units for displaced renters and 47 rental units rented at market rates and at the CMHC median.