Amarjot Sandhu spent the spring of 2018 knocking on doors and attending events to gather support in the race to represent Brampton West at Queen’s Park.
Shortly after his victory, he faced a legal battle with the City of Brampton. In August 2018, the newly elected member was charged with four counts under the provincial Planning Act after he failed to register two secondary units he owned at the time and committing the “offence of using or permitting the use of lands for purposes not permitted,” under the Act. The properties in question are located at 58 Sandy Beach Road and 39 Duffield Road in Brampton.
Sandhu told The Pointer, at the time, that the homes had been converted with secondary units before he purchased the properties. “A few inconsistencies [were] brought to my notice by the municipal authority after I bought the residential units, including its usage. After this, I immediately acted as advised by the municipal authorities to secure the compliance for such residential units,” he said in September, 2019.
Sandhu said he received confirmation of compliance for one of the properties, 58 Sandy Beach Road, in January 2019 and the other unit had already passed inspections. However, as of March 2 of this year, 58 Sandy Beach Road does not appear on the city’s list of registered two-unit dwellings.
“As of March 2, 2021, 58 Sandy Beach Road is not registered with the City. A permit has been issued to convert the home into a two-unit dwelling. The registration process is not yet complete,” a City spokesperson told The Pointer.
Public disclosure documents from September 1, 2020 show Sandhu owned the building with his wife. The Pointer reached out to Sandhu several times over the last week to ask why the unit was not registered two-and-a-half years after he was charged.
Secondary units are permitted in Brampton homes but in order to meet legal requirements they have to be registered with the City of Brampton. This allows the bylaw department to inspect units to ensure full compliance with safety rules, including building and fire codes.
“Completing the one-time registration process ensures a second unit meets all requirements under the Ontario Building Code or Fire Code, Electrical Safety Authority and local zoning bylaw,” the City’s website states.
According to the City, units just need to be registered once even if they’re only used as a secondary unit temporarily. In order to be removed from the list of registered units “a subsequent permit [needs to be] issued to change the use of the dwelling from a two-unit dwelling to a single dwelling,” a City spokesperson said.
The property at 58 Sandy Beach Road was inspected in May 2018 after an anonymous caller told the City they suspected an illegal secondary unit at the address. When an inspector toured the home alongside Sandhu, the signs of people living in the unit were clear. An FOI request by The Pointer asking for details about the inspection returned images showing a fridge in the kitchen, dishes on the counter, and family pictures in a bedroom.
An inspection of Sandhu’s other property at 39 Duffield Road took place two months later. The basement unit had a living room, two bedrooms, bathrooms and a kitchen separated from the main living unit. This unit is now listed on the City’s website as a registered secondary dwelling.
Getting residents to register their secondary units has been an uphill battle the City of Brampton has fought since legislation came into effect after the Province introduced Ontario’s Strong Communities through Affordable Housing Act in 2011. The Act asked all municipalities to make plans for allowing secondary units to help create a new stock of affordable housing options. The City of Brampton presented its own procedure for registering units to residents in 2015.
There is no final number to how many illegal secondary units currently exist because of the inability to track them, but estimates put the figure between 30,000 and 50,000 units. Reports by councillors suggest as many as 24 residents in a single basement apartment at times, living in close quarters that don’t meet safety standards.
There are currently 7,154 registered two-unit homes in the city, according to Brampton’s website, a large jump from November 2019 when only 1,950 units were registered. Between 2015 and early 2019, the city received 6,670 applications to register secondary units. Almost half of these applications came in 2019 alone.
The sharp increase came from a more workable and affordable system introduced by the City of Brampton. When the program first started, registration costs could go up to $1,200. The City took steps to lower this significantly to $200 in 2019. It also introduced the secondary unit task force to inspect compliance in units. Between the creation of the bylaw in 2015 and February 2020, City bylaw officers investigated 7,075 complaints related to illegal secondary units. A total of 6,012 charges were laid against 1,643 properties and $2 million in fines were imposed in 2019.
“We want to gain compliance from the community, and when we don’t gain compliance from the community through education, we want to do it through enforcement,” Paul Morrison, Brampton’s director of enforcement, told City Council in 2019.
With the city’s growing population, and lack of affordable housing, secondary units can be seen as an easy way to increase supply for those involved in the rental market. The Region of Peel found 70 percent of its low-income households and 30 percent of middle-income households in 2019 were living in dwellings they could not afford. Not enough purpose-built rental properties are being constructed by the building industry. Out of the approximately 5,300 new housing units added to the region every year, only 170 units are rentals.
The lack of stock has given rise to secondary suites, inside residential homes, usually built in basements. These are often unregistered and many documented cases have shown disturbingly dangerous violations of safety rules.
Councillor Jeff Bowman has been fighting to get better access to these units for inspection, to keep residents safe, but the Province told him in 2019 that due to privacy issues little could be done to allow inspections without the permission of residents.
Meanwhile, the supply of affordable housing has become a crisis across Peel. The Region has introduced big plans to address its housing shortage over the years, including the 2018 Home for All Plan, outlining the creation of thousands of affordable units every year. But these council-approved plans have failed to materialize because of a lack of political will to fund long-lasting change. An updated report presented to Regional Council in June stated ownership and rental housing were out of reach for 80 percent of households in the region, a trend moving in the wrong direction since the concerning 2019 numbers.
It remains unclear if Sandhu, an elected official who himself was charged in violation of the rules, is still operating secondary suites in Brampton.
Tel: 416 890-7643
Nida Zafar, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The Pointer