Burnaby landlord says city forcing him to renovict tenants

City isn't cracking down on neighbours with identical infractions, Jason Chow says

A Burnaby landlord says the city is forcing him to evict his tenants – including a family with young children – for bylaw infractions many other homeowners are getting away with. 

Jason Chow owns a duplex on Georgia Street in North Burnaby where he lives with his family and an extended family member below, in an in-law suite. On the other side, a young family of four live above a basement suite rented by three students and professionals.

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But, he said, he has to evict all of his tenants following a recent City of Burnaby inspection prompted by a complaint about Chow installing new flooring without a permit. 

And the mayor is defending the city policies that could lead to the renters being forced out. 

The inspector found the basement suite – which the city doesn’t allow in duplexes – and determined windows in basement bedrooms were too small.

Chow said he has until Aug. 30 to submit building plans to the city showing what he will do to bring his duplex up to code. He said that would require installing an interior stairwell, turning the two suites on one side of the duplex into one and replacing the windows – a lengthy and expensive process that, he said, can’t be done with tenants living in the home. 

“It's something I don't want to do. It's a little bit crazy to me, to just kick out everybody just to do some renovations,” Chow said. 

Chow said every one of the approximately 20 duplexes he viewed while on the market two years ago had basement suites, and a realtor told him the Georgia Street building had operated as multi-unit rental property for 50 years before he bought it. He said he was assured the city wouldn’t crack down, despite the home technically not being up to code. 

The city generally only inspects homes following a complaint – and Chow’s was targeted, he believes, by a neighbour who never complained directly to him about noise or other concerns about his renovations. 

“I guess he didn't like me. I'm not sure what it is because I didn't do anything to him,” Chow said. 

Many houses in Chow’s neighbourhood have basement suites with similar windows, but they aren’t being forced to renovate because no one has filed a complaint, he said. 

“I'm not going to rat them out; I'm not going to write a complaint about them,” he said. 

Chow said he has been a strong supporter of Mayor Mike Hurley because of his campaign promises to protect renters, but he now finds it “very ironic” city policy is hurting his own tenants. 

Hurley told the NOW he has “very great sympathy” for Chow’s tenants, but the city must enforce its bylaws once a breach has been discovered. The landlord’s assertion there are dozens of other homes with similar violations is irrelevant, Hurley said.

“People can point their fingers in every direction, but the point is that his is illegal and our inspector went and that's what they found,” Hurley said. “While we're encouraging affordable rentals, they have to be within the rules that are set for safety.”

The bylaws ensure there are proper firewalls between suites and that windows are large enough for emergency escapes, Hurley said. 

City staff are reviewing the possibility of allowing basement suites in duplexes, but the study isn’t expected to be complete until next year and, Hurley said, Chow’s violations can’t be put on hold until then.

“We can't go against our own bylaws once it's been pointed out to us,” he said. 

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