British Columbia

New rules for abandoned property owners in Surrey result in fewer fires

A city policy in Surrey, B.C., has drastically reduced the number of fires in abandoned buildings.

Property owners now have to secure, demolish or reinvest in their buildings

Just two weeks ago a fire broke out at an abandoned motel in Surrey, B.C. Firefighters say fires like these are happening less because of a new program. (CBC)

A city policy in Surrey, B.C., has drastically reduced the number of fires in abandoned buildings. 

For years, unoccupied buildings have been a breeding ground for illegal activities that often led to fires. An abandoned motel and adjacent RV park caught fire just two weeks ago.

But in January, fire chief Len Garis launched a new program to pressure owners to take responsibility for their properties.

"They have a choice — they can secure it, they can demolish it, or they can reinvest in it and bring it back into the housing market," Garis said. 

The city gives property owners a limited amount of time to comply And if they don't, fire crews do it for them. The city has identified 407 at-risk properties, mapped out across Surrey.

Empty buildings in Surrey, B.C., are subject to a new city policy. (Doug Kerr/CBC)

"All of our fire crews are assigned a list within their parishes. Weekly, they go out and they inspect these properties that have been secured," he said. 

"Some of them we've been to 55 times. So what we're doing now is we're only going one time, and after that we're going to start fees associated with providing the service."

In the last year, almost half of 407 buildings have been demolished and a quarter have been fixed up and put back onto the housing market.

"On average, we were looking at about 16 to 18 abandoned property house fires per year. In the first half of this year there was 13 and in the second half there's only been one," Garis said. 

The fire department has prepared a report to present to council. Garis says it highlights the program's success, even though it comes at no additional cost to the city.

With files from Tanya Fletcher

Owners of empty buildings like these in Surrey, B.C., have to secure, demolish or refurbish them. (Doug Kerr/CBC)


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