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City to seek court action on illegal suites

West Van landlord pleads unsuccessfully for more time for his tenants to rehouse

THE City of North Vancouver is headed to the Supreme Court of B.C. to evict two households from a pair of illegal suites in an Ottawa Gardens duplex.

A divided council voted 4-3 Monday night to seek a court injunction after a lengthy, bitter debate.

The illegal suites in the building on the 200-block of West Sixth Street have been on the city's radar for more than a decade, but a series of reviews and appeals requested by owner Arnold Wallner have fended off eviction of his tenants. In March, Wallner attempted unsuccessfully to have his property rezoned.

Wallner appeared Monday to plead for more time for his tenants to find new homes. "It is not my intention to act against the city's bylaws," he said. "Mister mayor and members of council, I would really like to apologize for any wrongdoing in this matter. I am asking for forgiveness and I'm asking, respectfully, for more time to sort out things."

Wallner also presented letters from his tenants, both praising him as a good landlord and arguing there were no other comparable homes in the city at the price: $790 and $820 respectively. One tenant asked council where everyone would go if all the City of North Vancouver's illegal suites were closed.

"It is very difficult for anyone to find anything that comes close," Wallner said. "Not by a long shot. This is a fantastic location, and in excellent condition. I spent lots of money for upgrading."

City staff, however, said Wallner had rebuffed their attempts at inspection and said they believed the two suites did not meet the fire safety standards of the B.C. Building Code.

Wallner was somewhat evasive about exactly how much time he wanted before Mayor Darrell Mussatto pressed him to answer a yes or no question for a twoand-a-half-month extension. Wallner also admitted he was hopeful to bring the issue before a new council following the civic election in November.

"Anyone who purchases property has an obligation to understand the legal constraints on that property," said Coun. Pam Bookham. "Mr. Wallner has indicated that he has been aware for at least 11 years that he was operating in violation of our bylaw that doesn't allow secondary suites in duplexes. If we were to follow the logic he has tried to argue, it seems to me any number of suites, regardless of existing bylaws, ought be allowed because it provides someone with affordable housing."

Bookham said Wallner's appeal was simply another delaying tactic. "I'm prepared tonight to see this matter go forward to the Supreme Court," she said.

Under questioning from Coun. Rod Clark, Wallner said he was a West Vancouver resident and had never lived in the building himself.

"Mr. Wallner lives in British Properties," said Clark. "This is an investment for him and nothing else. He has no ties to the property and the revenue from these suites goes into his pocket each month."

"He's a lousy landlord," continued Clark, who criticized Wallner harshly for ignoring fire safety standards and city bylaws, and said he was well aware of the consequences for his tenants.

"I feel badly for the tenants, I really do," he said. "I understand what's going to happen here. These people are going to be displaced. That's very regrettable.

"But the city is not the one at fault here. Mr. Wallner is at fault."

Coun. Mary Trentadue pressed staff on exactly what action the city would take. Bylaw services manager Brad McRae said the eviction would be Wallner's responsibility and admitted he hadn't ever been through a similar process.

"This is a human issue," said Trentadue. "These are people who live in a home who pay modest rent. I've been a renter in the city, I couldn't find a place for that price. This home has been a rental opportunity for people for 30 years, well before it became a heritage area.

"I don't want to see this city taking Mr. Wallner and his tenants to the Supreme Court. I think that's an absolute waste of time and money. There are all kinds of people renting homes in this city who don't live there. Every one of us on this council knows that. Are we going to go after all these people or just Mr. Wallner?" she said.

Couns. Guy Heywood and Bob Fearnley joined Clark and Bookham to carry the vote. Mussatto, Trentadue and Coun. Craig Keating opposed the injunction.