Garages and chicken coops being offered as illegal suites in Kelowna - InfoNews

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Garages and chicken coops being offered as illegal suites in Kelowna

Image Credit: ADOBE STOCK
May 29, 2019 - 6:30 AM

KELOWNA - For Kim, getting evicted from an illegal suite was a life-changing experience.

Her story also shines a light on a part of the rental housing market that doesn’t get talked about amid city council debates on Airbnb rentals, increased costs for new housing and the ongoing homelessness crises.

Kim, who we agreed not to fully identify since it could harm her chances of finding accommodation, was living in what was called a duplex near Kelowna General Hospital, content to call it home and hop on a bus each day for the 15-minute ride to work.

The fact that the duplex actually contained six illegal suites was not an issue until she got into a disagreement with one of the other residents and was served eviction notice by the property manager.

In response, she called the City of Kelowna bylaw office to report the suites. They were shut down.

“When he (bylaw officer) came in, he said: ‘this is not safe,’” she told iNFOnews.ca. “There is no fire wall. The girl upstairs has no balcony so she has no exit if there is a fire. There’s a central door but, if she’s behind her door, she’s got to jump through her window.”

The other tenant in her side of the duplex actually lived in the converted garage.

“Her living room wall was a garage door,” Kim said.

She lived in the only suite that had control of the heat and air conditioning for that side of the building.

It may be unusual for a tenant to turn in her landlord for having an illegal suite but hundreds of complaints about such suites are made every year in Kelowna.

In 2018, the City of Kelowna issued 249 fines of $500 each for illegal suites, collecting $124,500, Bylaw Services Manager David Gazley, told iNFOnews.ca.

So far this year, 44 more files have been opened. The City could not offer an estimate on how many illegal secondary suites are in the Okanagan. 

The city will work with landlords to try to get the suites legalized. Or, if the landlord is willing to properly decommission the suite, the city can cut the fine in half.

“Some are just not to code,” Gazley said. “They’ll put a hot plate down there and a bit of plumbing and call it a rental suite. You just can’t do that. The next thing you know, you have people living in chicken coops. We do have people living in chicken coops. We have people living in garages. It’s just not safe.”

The worst case he saw was off McCurdy Road.

“This young lady was living in a sea can over there,” Gazley said. “She had a way where it wouldn’t lock her in. She made a little residence out of that and was paying the land owner to stay in that.”

While he realizes there may not be affordable alternatives for people living in such conditions, the city tries to work with the owners to either legalize the suites or give the tenants enough time to find alternative locations.

“We don’t want to kick people out, but we don’t want them to come to harm either,” he said.

Of course, “affordable” is a relative term. Kim was paying $1,500 per month for her one-bedroom with den and two bathrooms share of the duplex.

While illegal suites can be found in all areas of the city, higher end neighbourhoods tend to be more inclined to put in legal suites.

“I find a lot of people, when they build a house, go: ‘I can generate some money if I throw a hot plate downstairs and have someone come live with me and charge them rent,” Gazley said. “What happens is, each of those people might have a car and it’s out on the street and it’s bothering people and they all start complaining. The next thing you know, a parking complaint turns into an illegal suite complaint.”

The city only cracks down on illegal suites if a complaint is filed.

For Kim, her new life means taking three buses and spending 70 minutes a day just to get to work. She is also continuing her battle with the property manager.

She failed to win her fight against the eviction and failed to get her damage and pet deposits back. Those totaled about $1,800. She also had to pay $500 cash on short notice to a moving company because the property manager called in a bailiff to remove her.

“I’m not letting this go,” she said. “I don’t want this to happen to anyone else again.”

While her fight is with the property manager, her former living conditions illustrate what hundreds of others are enduring in their quest to find affordable rental housing in Kelowna.


To contact a reporter for this story, email Rob Munro or call 250-808-0143 or email the editor. You can also submit photos, videos or news tips to the newsroom and be entered to win a monthly prize draw.

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