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HOUSING CRISIS: Peachland man pushing back against housing regulations

This constructed "house on wheels" in Peachland is not considered a permanent dwelling by local government.
This constructed "house on wheels" in Peachland is not considered a permanent dwelling by local government.
Image Credit: SUBMITTED/ Ryan King

A couple living on an acreage in Peachland is facing an uncertain future after battling the bylaw department for years for their right to remain in their home.

Ryan King purchased the 12-acre property seven years ago. He built a tiny house on wheels — essentially a RV — where he’s lived with his wife and pets without complications until about three years ago when a neighbour filed a complaint with bylaw about the little house.

“The house isn’t seen as a permanent dwelling and bylaw showed up and issued me a $100 fine,” he said. “There have been random visits and fines issued ever since. I keep paying them off but bylaw is threatening to increase the fines to $1,000 per week.”

While using an RV or tiny house as a permanent dwelling is against municipal and regional district regulations in Kamloops and the Okanagan, King doesn’t believe he’s doing anything wrong and should have the right to live on his own land how he decides.

“I designed and built the tiny home to building codes,” he said. “We live off grid on solar and hydro for power and drilled a well for water. Where we live none of our neighbours can see or hear us. I’m a simple, law-abiding business owner who pays his taxes and lives the simple life.”

King said he was initially offered two options by the department, to remove everything from the property or build a house to comply with the regulations.

“Bylaw said you can’t park an RV on bare land until there is a permanent structure in place,” he said. “I didn’t have anywhere else to go so I chose to build and got my Owner Builder Authorization permit, an extremely difficult provincial exam.”

Building drawings and several surveys of the land were done including geological, land and septic which cost King roughly $10,000.

King said personal family health setbacks delayed the building progress until his building permit expired and the department refused his request to renew it.

“I asked to renew it so I could build and resolve the issue,” he said. “The last I’ve been told is to remove everything from the property and they might consider renewing the permit. It's to their discretion and they need financial proof and information that we have enough money to follow through.

“Essentially, I’m supposed to leave the property.”

Using RVs as dwellings has been an ongoing point of contention for several years between residents and municipal governments. With a lack of affordable housing and increasing homelessness, King wants the regulations to be revised.

READ MORE: Rise of hidden homeless families living on streets of Thompson-Okanagan

“Who am I bothering and what harm am I doing?” he said. “I got the land surveyed to make sure the home is far enough away from the creek and we keep the property clean. We don’t produce black water, we have a composting toilet and the soil has been tested.”

Dan Maja is the Chief Bylaw Officer for the district.

“All these people are building tiny homes and the second you put it on wheels, you’re building an RV that isn’t provincially certified,” he said. “The regulations are there to ensure these dwellings are safe. No one says he (King) can’t live there, we’re asking him to get a building permit and build his home.”

Maja didn’t readily have information on if and why King’s request for a second building permit was denied after the first expired, but suspected it could be related to King’s financial information.

He also wasn’t clear what fines King has been given to date or what they could be increased to, but said bylaw fines in general have increased recently.

“It takes time to drive out to places and when we have to keep going back to speak to people who aren’t doing what they are supposed to, there needs to be an appropriate penalty.”

When asked what is the problem with people living in RVs, Maja said, “that’s a good question.”

“Speaking personally, RVs are built for camping and temporary accommodation, they don’t have thick walls and are usually built out of combustible material. The cost to heat them is high, we don’t use ours all winter.”

Maja said RVs have smaller holding tanks for waste water that accumulates and has to be addressed, and they are hard to douse when on fire because of the propane tanks at the front. 

“It’s better to live in a house and build with permits and inspections so it’s safe and people can respond when you have a proper house address.”

When pointed out homelessness and economic insecurity is increasing and more people are in need of shelter, Maja said he’s aware of the crisis.

“We know people are struggling, these rules are from the province, I just enforce the bylaws,” he said. “People have the ability to approach elected officials to ask for changes. We enforce regulations because we want to keep people safe.”

Earlier this week, a couple living on their family acreage in the Agricultural Land Reserve in Vernon won their right to remain living in their RV after 19 months of battling the city. In the unique case, Vernon city council voted in favour of amending the bylaws around RV dwelling in agricultural zones to align with provincial regulations.

READ MORE: Not enough tiny homes for Kelowna's homeless population this winter

King said he’s uncertain changes will be made for RV dwellers on municipal lands in Peachland. He called three legal firms to discuss his case but “no one would touch it.”

“It has been almost three years, knowing I’m living illegally and not knowing what is going to happen. It’s not easy to just move with the cost of rentals and housing, it all feels financially impossible, it’s going to make me homeless.”

READ MORE: Demand for food doubles in three years at Central Okanagan food banks

According to the Regional District of the Central Okanagan regulations, recreational vehicles are defined as those made for temporary accommodation and includes travel trailers, motorized homes, slide-in campers, chassis mounted campers and tent trailers. It also includes personal watercraft, all-terrain vehicles, snowmobiles and boats.

The land use zoning of a property determines where an RV can be occupied and for how many days of the month.

The provision to use an RV as a temporary building is allowed if a building permit has been issued for a single-family dwelling and if active construction of the dwelling is occurring with footing and foundation already poured.

— This article was updated at 3:07 p.m. on Monday, December 4 to add comment from the Regional District of the Central Okanagan. 

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