The municipality of North Cowichan will be looking into new ways of enforcing illegal suites in the Cowichan Valley. The motion for district staff to draft a policy on how to enforce laws around non-code-compliant secondary suites passed through council unanimously.

Council was clear that the new policy will not involve officers going out and ‘hunting’ for illegal suites, but will only affect how suites are dealt with once they are reported to the municipality by someone.

The policy will be drafted during a severe housing shortage – especially in rental units – when skyrocketing rental prices and renovictions are common.

The Cowichan Housing Association in a recent report says that they expect a 14-percent population growth by 2025. Based on the number of housing units being built in the last few years compared to the amount needed to meet that future demand – there is a roughly 500 unit per year shortage. Some reports have certain rental listings having an over 200 person long waitlist.

“Expressed in the report there’s a concern that an overly zealous approach might place people in less secure or less safe situations than in a non-code compliant suite… and that this is a particularly important issue during a housing availability and affordability crisis.“Councillor Christopher Justice says. “We don’t really have a good estimate, or any estimate at present about how many non-zoning compliant suites exist in the municipality.”

He went on to say that he found an estimate based on insurance data that states around 15-percent of secondary suites are illegal, and that anecdotally he’s heard there are hundreds of illegal suites in Maple Bay alone.

Chief Administrative Officer, Ted Swabey says that this is the perfect time to implement a policy for these suites because the total number is unknown. He developed a similar policy in his 25 years working for the City of Nanaimo in a similar capacity.

“My experience on this in Nanaimo was that there were ten to twenty thousand known illegal secondary suites. It was massive,” Swabey says. “The liability starts to mount, the more you know. I would suggest that we’re in a good position, kind of because we are developing a policy not knowing what we’re dealing with and as they come up we then have the tools to use for it.”

With the final word, Deputy Mayor Rosalie Sawrie says, “I think it is important to ensure that we do have safety of residents as well as acceptable and satisfactory living conditions, especially with rentals.