Government flouts national building codes at upscale hotel

The Yukon government is allowing a hotel to rent rooms that aren't up to code to unwitting guests, despite being well aware of the violations. Inn on the Lake is perched on the peaceful waters of Marsh Lake, in the community of M'Clintock Place.

The Yukon government is allowing a hotel to rent rooms that aren’t up to code to unwitting guests, despite being well aware of the violations.

Inn on the Lake is perched on the peaceful waters of Marsh Lake, in the community of M’Clintock Place.

Residents in the cottage residential neighbourhood brought the hotel’s numerous violations to the attention of government officials last fall.

“Nothing happened,” said resident Paul Kloepfer. “The government just closed their eyes.”

The residents are concerned because they’re living in an oft-dry boreal forest next to an Inn on the Lake rental cottage without approved fireplaces. Its other buildings lack plumbing and final building and occupancy permits.

M’Clintock is a 20-minute drive from the volunteer fire department in Marsh Lake.

“If there was a fire it would affect the whole subdivision,” said Noreen Eftoda who lives next door to a woman who rents out rooms to overflow Inn on the Lake guests. These suites don’t have final building or occupancy permits.

It’s an unsettling thought not knowing how the hotel’s cabins have been built, said M’Clintock resident Bert Morin.

“The government isn’t enforcing a national building code and that’s leading to all kinds of problems,” he said.

“It’s a public health and safety issue.”

Residents brought the violations before lands branch officials last December.

And then everything went quiet.

Eight months later, after the Yukon News pulled building file information for each of the rental properties, government officials inspected a cabin that Schiffkorn had recently put up for sale.

Hotel owner Carson Schiffkorn built an addition on a house he owns in M’Clintock in 1996 that he’s rented out to hotel guests.

Schiffkorn never got a final building or occupancy permit for that 14-year-old addition, which is used for commercial purposes.

“Some people take a long time (to get their permits),” said acting building safety manager Doug Badry when asked about it on Thursday.

“The onus is on the owner to call for inspections.

“We encourage people to be more proactive and get their work done, but we don’t actively force them to get that done.”

There are some cabins that still aren’t up to code.

The Blue Spruce cabin doesn’t have a permit for its four propane fireplaces, nor does it have a final building, plumbing or occupancy permit.

To rent one of the suites in the cabin costs $249 per night.

Why did the government not take preventative measures with Inn on the Lake?

“We place the onus on the owner to look after their progress,” said Badry.

There are only four building inspectors for the entire territory.

“We’re limited in the extent of our enforcement,” he said.

Residents met with government officials seven times over the last year about Inn on the Lake.

Many left those meetings frustrated, said Kloepfer.

Aside from building violations, residents were worried Schiffkorn was flouting the M’Clintock Place Area Act.

The land-use plan was drawn up in 1996 to restrict growth in the small neighbourhood and limit commercial activity.

But it hasn’t been effective in doing that, say residents.

The Inn on the Lake’s main lodge and a small RV campground were supposed to be the only commercial lots operating out of M’Clintock.

Schiffkorn has a commercial permit to rent six rooms in his main lodge.

However, he’s rented suites in four different cabins and homes in the neighbourhood to overflow guests.

None of these buildings are registered with the Yukon land title office as commercial buildings.

But they are clearly listed for rent on his hotel website.

And because they’re listed as residential dwellings, they don’t need regular fire inspections by the territory.

The Inn on the Lake main lodge must be inspected every five years because of the category of the building and the occupancy load, said fire marshal Dennis Berry.

Records from 2005 show the main lodge is up to code. But the status of Schiffkorn’s cottages is not as clear.

“We don’t inspect residences as people have to build their homes to certain standards,” said Berry.

As for the area development act for M’Clintock Place, Schiffkorn isn’t in violation, said land planning acting director Jerome McIntyre.

“(The act) doesn’t prohibit people from renting out their property for any period of time – nightly, weekly, monthly or yearly,” he said.

The act states a cottage residential zone applies to, “fulltime and/or seasonal single family residential and recreation uses in a quiet, lake oriented environment.”

The reference to “recreational” allows owners to rent their properties, said McInytre.

M’Clintock resident Jan Slipetz is skeptical.

You have to look at the intent of that act, she said.

“They’re zoned single-family to prevent overcrowding,” said Slipetz.

“If you interpret the act the way the government has, then you could build an apartment or sixplex on your property as long as you rent it out for ‘recreational’ purposes.”

The government isn’t administering the act fairly, said Kloepfer.

They seem to play favourites, he said.

About three years ago, Kloepfer tried to supplement his income by putting a small sawmill in his yard.

The government shut him down, saying he couldn’t operate a commercial business on a residential lot.

“Different people are given different rules and that makes me very angry,” he said.

“It seems that Mr. Schiffkorn doesn’t have to obey the rules. If the government shut down my business they should have shut down (Schiffkorn’s) little houses as well.”

The Inn on the Lake isn’t in violation of the area development act, said Schiffkorn.

“Under the M’Clintock land use plan it simply states single-family dwelling as the type of conforming structure that needs to be done,” he said.

“The legislation, as far as I understand, has never been anything that has said you can’t rent this out monthly, weekly or yearly.”

Inspections also happen frequently, he said.

“We’ve had inspectors through here hundreds of times and they haven’t said anything,” he said.

In the last month, officials from Fisheries and Oceans, the RCMP and the planning department have visited the hotel site, he said.

“Every year, we get public health officials and fire inspectors coming out.”

He views the residents’ concerns as a “witchhunt” against him and his hotel.

“Not a single person has come to me to talk about their concerns,” he said.

His hotel has a good reputation as a four-and-half-star resort, he said.

“It’s accommodated Martha Stewart and Canada’s governor general.”

But residents say the year-round hotel is becoming a more difficult neighbour each year.

Residents should have been more vigilant when working with the government to create the area development act back in 1996, said Morin.

“We should have never agreed to allow any commercial there in the first place,” he said.

“Since then, people are interpreting regulations any way they want.”

Contact Vivian Belik at

vivianb@yukon-news.com