Secondary suites have long been a hot button topic in the City of Calgary. Everyone from community and residential associations, to tenants, homeowners, developers and politicians all take a side on this issue. The questions is how does Calgary, the 3rd largest city in Canada, provide much needed diverse housing options, including affordable rental properties, without rezoning entire communities?  

Calgary secondary suites.

The battle has been going on at City Council for a while, but especially since Mayor Nenshi was elected in 2010. A final decision has yet to be made that will move the issue off the table.

Types of Secondary Suites

1. Legal Suites are those that adhere to current building codes and land use bylaws and obtained building permits. This is the type of suite that we want all units to be. It ensures that the quality of craftsmanship has made the area safe for living in and has been inspected during different stages of construction to make sure there aren’t any hidden hazards that could endanger tenants.

 2. Legal Non-conforming Suites are units that in the past adhered to all building codes and land use bylaws, which made them legal at the time. These suites however are not in accordance with current building regulations and or they may be sit on land that has been re-zoned to not allow secondary suites. 

3. Illegal Suites can mean a couple different things: they can be a unit that meets proper building codes but without a proper building permit; they can exist in an area not zoned for secondary suites or they don’t meet provincial building code, either old or new. These are the secondary suites that can be concerning for residents, as there is never any quality control enforced or inspections to oversee the safety of the units.

Are you zoned for a suite?

There is a process that needs to be followed in order to have a legal suite as part of your property. The first step is finding out if it’s allowed as per land use bylaws. 

To find out if your address is zoned for a suite, use the City of Calgary Secondary Suite Permitting Assistant  

Calgary’s City Council’s still Split on Secondary Suites

Calgary’s City Council view on secondary suites seems to be split. Mayor Nenshi's proposal is to grandfather illegal suites. For secondary suites to exist regardless of land zoning regulations, as long as the unit complies with current building codes and safety regulations. This seems like an ideal compromise. The suites continue to exist so the tenants aren’t found homeless (because it was discovered their rental was illegal), and the owners have peace of mind that the housing they are providing is safe and in compliance with all building codes. No more hiding. 

Those City of Calgary Council members who oppose the mayor’s proposal are taking the stance of supporting their constituents who say, “I don’t want to live in a community where secondary suites are allowed”. There is a stigma, whether deserved or not, that people living in secondary suites belong in the “low income” category, and that’s a stigma that many communities want to avoid. They believe the community vibe will change, parking will become an issue or that property could decrease in value.

Is the Amnesty program a step in the right direction?

As recently as November 17th 2014, there was a motion put forward by Ward 10 City Councillor, Andre Chabot, that an 18-month amnesty program be put into effect. Under the amnesty program landlords would be able to deem if their suite is legal and if not, have the time to bring it up to code and seek applications for re-zoning if necessary without penalty. The theory behind this motion is that the city could deal with the existing problem of illegal and non-conforming suites before figuring out if blanket re-zoning is a plausible solution. The amnesty program could be a possible solution, however the program would still rely on landlords to take responsibility and voluntarily come forward. In addition, if their suite is denied re-zoning, what happens after that 18 month amnesty period is over?

The issue of secondary suites in Calgary is far from cut and dry, it’s a dynamic issue that will continue to develop and change. The only thing everyone seems to agree on is something needs to be done, but what? I look forward to seeing the other proposals and solutions that Calgary City Council puts forward. Do you think that the proposals that Council has put forward could work? What do you think of secondary suites being allowed in your Calgary community? Where do you stand?

Posted by Marnie Campbell on


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