Seal of approval

Calgary creates secondary suite registry program 

Calgary’s secondary suites debate now has its very own sticker.

In an effort to promote legal and safe secondary suites, the City of Calgary has launched a secondary suite registry and sticker program. The online, searchable registry tool and registered sticker program will help Calgarians verify if a secondary suite has been inspected by the City and meets the requirements of Alberta’s building codes at the time of its approval.

Having added a legal secondary suite to his southwest Calgary home shortly after its purchase, Bryan Backman-Beharry believes the City’s move will increase demand for legal, safe and abiding suites like his own.

“I expect it will increase demand for legal suites,” said Backman-Beharry, who has already received his registry sticker from the City.

“It offers renters peace of mind by allowing them to quickly confirm whether or not a suite has the city’s stamp of approval, which assures them that it meets specific standards for safety and comfort.”

Under the new program, registered secondary suite owners will receive a sticker that can be used to promote their suites to current and future residents.

The online registry and mapping tool allows Calgarians to enter an address, registry sticker number or community to verify a legal and safe secondary suite. Once the home is sold, the registration transfers to the new owner.

While Backman-Beharry believes the City’s stamp of approval could encourage more owners to build legal suites, he says the demand for housing coupled with the sheer number of illegal suites in the city will likely keep legal suites in the minority.

“If renters become widely aware of the program and start asking landlords about it, then yes, [I think will encourage more owners to build legal suites],” he said. “However, I’m sure there will continue to be an overwhelming majority of renters who choose non-legal suites whether it be by necessity or by informed choice.”

The number of legal suites on the registry currently sits at just 431. The City estimates there are as many as 20,000 suites in the city,

“The real answer is lots,” admits Cliff De Jong, special project co-ordinator with the Planning, Development and Assessment Department at the City.

De Jong says the goal of the program, as well as other recent moves by the City, is to bring that number down.

In September, council approved an 18-month long development permit exemption that runs until March 3, 2017, which allows homeowners who are developing secondary suites to save as much as $2,200, along with plenty of time by skipping the development permit process altogether.

“The time is pretty good in terms of coming forward and trying to legalize your suite,” said De Jong. “If you’ve got a vacant suite, that would be ideal for us. We can advise what the code deficiencies are so then at least the homeowner would be able to inform themselves what kind of costs they’re in for.”

In addition to meeting land-use bylaws, which largely prohibit the suites on any lots not zoned R2, suites must comply with Alberta safety and fire codes. Those codes can require a minimum number of exits, minimum window and window well sizes, minimum ceiling heights, fire and smoke separation between units, independent heating (furnace, floor heating, wall mount heating units) and ventilation systems and even maximum unit size.

While the City’s estimates put the low end on renovation costs at $10,000, Backman-Beharry estimates his unit cost closer to $70,000.

Along with providing peace of mind and secure monthly rental income, Backman-Beharry says the City’s stamp of approval will likely provide some incentive when it comes time to sell.

“I’m sure having a legal suite will help the resale value,” he said. “ I can’t see the registration program itself having much bearing on that, but at least it’s a quick and easy way to prove to buyers that the suite is legal.”

Those looking at the secondary suite registry or the Development Permit exemption can visit calgary.ca/secondarysuites or contact 311 to learn more about the requirements – both municipal and provincial – that must be met to have a suite approved.

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