Sukhdev Singh and Kashmir Singh Sahota have been fined $6,000 after a judge found them in contempt of an interlocutory order to not occupy or use rental properties in Surrey.
The properties are the subject of a yet-to-be-heard petition from the City of Surrey.
The city alleges in its petition that the respondents failed to obtain required building and occupancy permits as well as city inspections related to renovating and occupying a residential property at 6072 133A St. they bought in 2021, and did “extensive” renovations on to build three separate rental units then rented them out.
Justice John Gibb-Carsley noted in his Nov. 29 reasons for judgment that the City of Surrey claims that the respondents ignored “repeated efforts” to have them comply with bylaws.
“The steps taken by the City of Surrey prior to filing the petition included posting ‘stop work’ notices at the property, warning the respondents several times to halt the renovations and to not occupy or use the property, and issuing bylaw infraction tickets to the respondents,” the judge noted in B.C. Supreme Court in New Westminster.
On April 14, 2022, city hall obtained the interlocutory injunction from Justice Kenneth Ball and on Sept. 22, 2022, Gibb-Carsley found Singh and Sahota in contempt of the April order.
“I have concluded that, in the circumstances of this case, the appropriate penalty is a fine of $6,000 for the breach of the April order,” Gibb-Carsley decided. “Further, if the property remains occupied on January 1, 2023, the respondents shall pay an additional fine of $13,000, unless otherwise agreed to in writing by the City of Surrey or by further order of this Court. I also award the City of Surrey special costs for the contempt proceedings in respect of the April order.”
He also noted in his reasons for judgment that the respondents have been using the upper floor of the house “as a fourth rental unit for tenants,” in effect, converting a single-family structure “into an unauthorized and unpermitted 4-plex” contrary to Surrey bylaws and the British Columbia Building Code.
“In the circumstances of this case, where it appears the respondents have blatantly disregarded municipal permitting requirements that are intended to promote and protect the public by establishing minimum standards for safety, I find there is an added element of a public interest,” the judge said. “In my view, builders who flout municipal building codes and the permitting process should be deterred from doing so.”
The City of Surrey sought a penalty of $5,000 for each of the respondents, totalling $10,000, as well as another penalty of $10,000 if the occupants of the addition and secondary suite didn’t vacate the property by Dec. 1, 2022.
The judge noted the respondents were “frank” in their submissions to the court, acknowledging they were in breach of the bylaws and the court order.
“The respondents stated that they ‘never thought it would get this far,’” Gibb-Carsley noted. “They said that so many other people in Surrey are doing the same thing—that is, building and renting suites without permission—that they did not think this would happen. They advised that they have spent thousands of dollars on fees for lawyers and engineers and have made sincere efforts to obtain the required building permits from the City of Surrey, albeit after they had already renovated the property and rented it to the occupants of the addition and the secondary suite.”
Singh and Sahota told the court they have been trying for months to get the tenants to leave and were only recently secured an agreement for them to move out by Dec. 31. “They say the occupants are resistant to moving because the respondents charge a low rent and that it is very difficult to find similar rental accommodations in the Lower Mainland,” Gibb-Carsley noted.
“The respondents further informed the court that they are suffering financial hardship in their other businesses and asked the court to have leniency in the penalty imposed.”
Gibb-Carsley found Singh and Sahota “jointly and severally” liable for the $6,000 fine.
In 2021, Surrey council directed city staff to investigate “enhanced enforcement, prosecution and public awareness” in an effort to tackle illegal and unauthorized construction in the city, with an eye to “mitigate loss of life, destruction of property” and ensure compliance with bylaws.
“I know we have all been inundated with emails from people’s concerns about illegal construction,” Coun. Jack Hundial told council before it passed his related motion,. He also called on staff to look into how other cities are dealing with this.
Coun. Mandeep Nagra said at the time that stop work orders “are getting ignored all the time, just people rip them up and throw them away. I get a number of phone calls on a daily basis of illegal construction and unauthorized additions and all that.”