Opinion: Disregard rules on building permits and bylaws at your peril

The scope, scale and cost involved in new building and home renovations demand respect for the rules, says HAVAN’s Ron Rapp

Published in the Vancouver Sun  | February 26, 2023
Opinion by Ron Rapp

In 2013 a couple applied for a permit to renovate and add a garage to an older existing home on a property they purchased in West Vancouver. A permit to conduct interior renovations and add a garage was issued. Work was restricted to the home’s original footprint as the existing structure encroached on setback limits specified in bylaws enacted after the original dwelling was built.

The owners had been warned that the current bylaws would come into force if any major structural work was to be done or the build was expanded beyond the limits of the existing home.

City inspections in March 2014 found that the old home had been demolished without approval or demolition permits. The owners were required to submit new plans and were issued a permit for a new build.

Subsequent inspections in 2014 found construction did not conform to the current bylaw requirements or the approved plans for which the new permit had been issued, and setbacks had encroached beyond the limits of the original structure.

Stop work orders were issued, with the city refusing to conduct any further inspections, ultimately filing a petition in the courts to compel the owner to demolish the new building within 60 days, with a provision that such demolition would be effected by the city if they failed to comply.

Over the coming years, a series of petitions and counter-petitions were filed by both parties. The home was completed in 2017 without required plumbing, electrical, or structural inspections, with many deficiencies noted. The City of West Vancouver never issued an occupancy permit.

Ultimately, the lender started foreclosure proceedings, and the saga continued to drag out until October of 2022 when the home was finally demolished and the property sold to a new owner. The house was assessed in 2017 at $3 million and would have reflected an even higher valuation by 2022.

This drama played out over eight years, consuming time, money, and resources. The homeowner contended they hired qualified professionals and that the home was built to West Vancouver requirements. Clearly, this was not the case, and the owner’s decision to flout the rules also calls into question the credibility of the consultants and contractor hired who participated in the design and construction of this home.

Bylaws, codes, and permitting requirements exist to respect the occupants’ safety, use, and enjoyment of a home. While often complex and challenging, they cannot be unilaterally set aside by homeowners or the people retained for a renovation or new construction.

It is critical that anyone seeking to pursue such work respect the pertinent regulations and work with consultants and professional contractors that will protect their investment to ensure all regulatory and life/safety concerns are properly addressed.

Three estimates are recommended to help determine project scope and cost, noting it is a good idea to ensure the builder and the required consultants are part of the pre-construction planning process for the best outcome.

Hiring experienced, local, reputable, and professional consultants and contractors is the key to new building and renovation success. Check credentials. Check experience. Check references.

And remember, always get your agreement in writing.