Vancouver homebuilder blasts city’s home reno permit process

A homebuilder in Vancouver is fed up with exorbitant financial and time costs associated with getting renovation permits in the city.

Avi Barzelai posted a lengthy thread on Twitter outlining the process to get permits to do a simple bathroom renovation in the City of Vancouver. He outlined a total of nine pieces of correspondence needed, costing a total of $8,750 to get approval to build a powder room in a house.

“This is the MINIMUM amount of paperwork required. The larger the project, the more things get added,” he wrote.

“I could deal with all the red tape if city staff processed applications in a reasonable amount of time. Of course, they don’t. You go back and forth with them for weeks on completely meaningless details,” he wrote in the conclusion of the thread.

Speaking with CityNews, Barzelai says his biggest issue with the process is what he calls a lack of communication among those who process the forms.

“I can’t respond to that initial intake checker. I can’t say, ‘Hey I actually disagree with how you’ve interpreted these things,'” he explained. “I can’t get in touch with the person who threw the application back to me. Sometimes it feels like there’s no way to move forward. Everybody’s kind of interpreting things differently, so really, it’s created quite a bit of havoc in the system.”

While the red tape is frustrating for him, Barzelai says the ones who suffer most are his clients.

Clients suffer the most from permit bureaucracy, Barzelai says

The seemingly endless process of red tape Barzelai outlined is something he’s gotten used to. However, he says for those whose homes he’s renovating, it can cause major frustrations.

“It’s extremely difficult for clients to digest,” he said. “This is not something they’re used to.”

He points out that when people plan to renovate, the required permits involved are not something that is often taken into account.

“What clients are used to is watching HGTV and seeing the renovation happen in a couple days and they never talk about permits and stuff at the municipality,” he explained.

“There’s a lot of people out there that are in specific situations where they need this renovation done so they can live in their house or operate their business.

“I really want people, especially at City Hall … to really appreciate the effect that this is having on everyday people.”

Barzelai adds that the bureaucracy is something he’s seen throughout Lower Mainland municipalities, although notes that Vancouver is “by far the worst.”

“Where Vancouver goes, other municipalities follow. Sometimes it’s for better, but oftentimes it’s for worse,” he said, adding Alberta has far less red tape for building permits.

“It’s night and day. I mean, their process there for getting housing through their system is a lot more streamlined.”

City Hall looking at streamlining permit process

Barzelai says pledges made by the ABC Vancouver-majority city council, such as its proposed “3x3x3x1” permit approval system, may address the problem.

The system would see permits for home renovations take three days to be approved, three weeks for single-family townhouses, three months for multi-family mid-rise projects, and one year for a high-rise or large-scale project.

However, Barzelai says the current council’s ambition may only go so far.

“The bureaucracy is the same bureaucracy. We’ve elected a new council with new values but it’s the same bureaucracy that’s been there for the last 10 years or more,” he explained.

“This is a serious problem that’s going to require serious rethinking of how we do things.”

Coun. Peter Meiszner says he’s seen Avi’s thread online and agrees that things need to change.

“I understand the frustration and I’m glad that Avi is raising his voice and drawing attention to it,” he told CityNews.

“Clearly, there’s more work to do in terms of the workflow and we certainly shouldn’t be in a situation where people are hearing different things from different people.”

The ABC councillor says the city government is looking at improving customer service for permits so any issues that arise can be addressed before the application is submitted.

“We need housing now. So we need to do what we can to streamline things ASAP,” he said.

“We completely understand that these extra layers and bureaucracy are part of the housing crisis in Vancouver. We understand that we need to make it easier to build the right kind of housing in the city.”

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