‘Many property owners have brazenly ignored the City’s enforcement actions by physically removing
Stop Work Orders that have been posted on their property and/or paying the fines as a ‘cost of doing
business’ considering the considerable future return on investment for the unpermitted construction.’
Apart from being a bylaw issue, illegal constructions pose threat to humans, resulting in serious
injuries or even death
By Surbhi Gogia
SURREY – The issue of Illegal and unpermitted construction has been on the rise over the last several
years. The city of Surrey has been making continuous efforts to address this problem since the beginning
of this year. In a recent move, the City has announced launch of a new Illegal Construction Enforcement
Team (ICET) to crack down on unpermitted residential construction in Surrey.
The team is comprised of 3 building officials, 2 bylaw officers, one clerk
and a staff lawyer. It will be responsible for addressing Stop Work Orders at properties,
facilitating incoming complaints, revising internal forms to streamline onerous paperwork required to
request charges against illegal construction property owners etc.
The move follows a series of steps city of Surrey has taken after recommendations made by an advisory
team convened to propose changes to City’s action on unpermitted construction in Surrey.
The report submitted by the team in January 2022, mentioned that despite the City’s current process to
encourage adherence to building requirements and enforce efforts, the problem persists and is
becoming more prevalent. “Many property owners have brazenly ignored the City’s enforcement
actions by physically removing Stop Work Orders that have been posted on their property and/or paying
the fines as a ‘cost of doing business’ considering the considerable future return on investment for the
unpermitted construction,” noted in the report.
“It is also common for trades staff to hide or quickly leave the site in an effort to avoid fines when a
Bylaw Enforcement Officer arrives at the property.”
The report asked the City to make significant amendments to the City’s bylaws. The Team developed a
strategy that focuses on three key areas: Bylaw amendments and Public Education; Creation of an
Unpermitted and Illegal Construction Enforcement Team and Process Improvements; and Building
The City updated bylaws doubling fines (from $500 to $1,000) which now can be issued daily for each
infraction, including construction without a permit, ignoring a stop work order, preventing an
inspection, and occupancy without a permit.
In addition to charges and injunctions resulting in court action that could lead to fines up to $50,000 per
offence, property owners are subject to deconstruction and removal costs of unauthorized structures.
Unpermitted construction could also jeopardize the future sale of the home and insurance companies
may refuse to pay for claims resulting from problems associated with work that was performed illegally
without proper inspections.
Sean Simson, program lead, Corporate Services Department, Surrey, informed, “In addition to the
changes to fines and our dedicated enforcement team, we have updated our website with additional
information regarding building permitting requirements and revised bylaws. We have also started a new
opportunity for property owners to dispute building related fines in person at a monthly adjudication
process at City Hall with a provincially appointed judge. We have made it easier for residents to submit
complaints regarding suspected building construction violations by directing all calls and emails to our
Bylaw Call Centre which is open 7 days a week.”
What is illegal construction?
The City informed that in 2021, Bylaw received 617 complaints relating to construction activities and the
city issued over 600 stop work orders. When asked what according to the City is categorized as illegal
construction, Simson said, “Illegal construction typically refers to cases where the structure or
renovation would not meet any of the current City bylaws or BC Building code requirements, whereas,
unpermitted construction may refer to a structure or renovation where the appropriate building permits
have not been issued to ensure the work adheres to City zoning and building bylaws, in addition to
meeting requirements of the BC Building Code but may otherwise be eligible for a permit.”
An example would be a structure that has been built and does not adhere to building codes, is
structurally unsafe and could pose a life/safety risk to occupants. Other examples include properties
where the owner has built a second building on their existing property, often right up against the
property line, which in these cases exceeds the floor area ratio permitted for the lot size. In such cases
several bylaws may have been violated.
Outside of potentially facing City fines for not obtaining a permit, homeowners run the risk of poor
workmanship and faulty construction. “Following the completion of an unpermitted construction and/or
renovation project, insurers may refuse to pay for claims resulting from problems associated with work
that was performed without a permit,” informed the City.
If damages are the result of non-compliance with the BC Building code, there may be little compensation
available to the owner if no permit was issued. The future sale of the home could also be jeopardized
once it is revealed that unpermitted or illegal renovations were carried out.
More importantly, beyond the substantial financial risks that a homeowner may bear for unpermitted or
illegal construction, carrying out such work could lead to significant risk to life and safety of occupants.
Statistics reveal that the existence of safety hazards is six times more likely with and unpermitted and
illegal work. Surrey’s Mayor Doug McCallum warned the residents that illegal construction is just not
worth the risk to yourself, your investment, or occupants. “Illegal construction threatens the safety and
wellbeing of occupants, site workers and surrounding neighbourhoods.”
“In fact, illegal unpermitted construction is six times more likely to result in serious safety issues such as
injury or death and can also cause dangerous environmental issues,” he informed.
To file a complaint about construction you suspect has been done without permits,
email [email protected] or call 604-591-4370. Complaints can also be submitted online
through the Report a Problem application (https://my.surrey.ca/report-a-problem/home). Please note
that anonymous complaints will not be accepted.