Granny suite grief

Last Updated: 5th June 2009, 4:11am

CAMBRIDGE — The first sign of trouble for John and Loretta Newton came in the form of an eviction notice from the city’s bylaw enforcement officer, and the threat of legal action should they not be gone within 60 days.

“But this is my house,” Newton thought to himself. “I’m half-owner. My name is on the deed. It’s on the mortgage.

“How can they throw me out of my own house?”

It would appear, however, the City of Cambridge does not care too deeply about these undeniable facts.

It cares, instead, about the monitoring and supposed proliferation of so-called illegal “granny suites” in the community as the recession hits this parts-manufacturing town with a vengeance, and as more and more people consider co-habitating with relatives, or stuffing their aging parents into jerry-rigged basement apartments.

And, of course, the city cares about receiving the $3,000 non-refundable fee it is now demanding, just to gamble on a granny flat application actually being approved by the city’s bureaucrats.

Newton, 61, a trucker by trade, did not come late into this scenario, nor did he attempt to shirk the rules or avoid taxation.

In fact, he and his wife have been living on the up-and-up in their converted garage, a very comfortable and well-appointed 450 sq. ft. of space attached to the home they actually co-own, for seven years.

And now, out of the blue, they’re in the city’s crosshairs as being illegal tenants.

A little background. John Newton bought the house on Christopher Dr. almost 12 years ago — with he and son Ian, also a trucker, going 50-50 on the $154,000 purchase, and with both names going on the deed and mortgage.

In 2000, with the city’s permission, and with a building permit secured, they converted the garage into a workshop — took out the garage door, built a wall, installed plumbing (toilet, sink and shower), a gas stove, the necessary hydro, et cetera — and paid the additional taxation for “increased living space.”

All passed muster with city inspectors.

Then, when Ian met and married his love Jennifer, and began raising a family — (they have a son, 2, and a baby on the way) — John and Loretta decided to move into the workshop which, equipped with all the couple needed, and already being taxed as legal “living space,” was only lacking kitchen cupboards, a stove and a little remodelling.

That was in 2002, a full seven years ago.

Then, this year, the eviction notice arrived.

The issue of granny suites in this city of 126,000, part of the Guelph-Cambridge-Kitchener region, has just now become controversial, with the city having to do a duck-and-weave as tensions escalate.

Back in April, for example, angry neighbours converged on City Hall to fight an illegally created basement apartment on Green Bank Dr., only to have a council committee approve its construction by a 5-1 vote, with Mayor Doug Craig being one of the five approving the re-zoning.