New city zoning, reduced permit fees and a still-faltering economy have increased the attractiveness of adding a secondary suite for Calgary homeowners.

Steve Francis, owner of Aspire Renovations, has done about six or seven secondary suites each year for almost a decade, but throughout last year and this January, that part of his business has been busier than ever.

“People see the opportunity to bring income in and the City has made it a lot easier,” he said.

Making it easier began last March, with city council’s approval of zoning for secondary suites across much of the city, while reducing permit fees, providing amnesty for illegal suites to become legal, and waiving the $232 fee for the mandatory registry until June 1, 2020.

Cliff De Jong, co-ordinator of issues management for the City of Calgary, says “it’s never been a better time to apply for a secondary suite.”

“People see the opportunity to bring income in and the City has made it a lot easier.” – Steve Francis, Aspire Renovations

Calgarians seem to agree, with a 90 per cent increase in secondary suite building permits issued in 2018 over the previous year (521 versus 274).

The City also simplified homeowner communication and approval processes by putting all the relevant information online.

De Jong says homeowners within the approved zones don’t need a development permit, but they will need a building/safety code permit ($420 for a new suite and $210 to convert an illegal suite into a legal one) that covers suite requirements like proper exits, windows, smoke alarms, and up-to-code plumbing and electrical.

The whole process through final inspection takes about eight weeks if a development permit is required (allowing for community input) and half that if only a building permit is needed for the renovation.

De Jong says the secondary suite construction process itself takes a minimum two weeks, depending on who’s doing the work and the complexity of required renovations.

Francis says when using a contractor – who, in addition to constructing the suite, takes care of all permitting and planning/layout work – the timeframe for a new one- or two-bedroom suite to final construction is about 12 weeks, at a cost of $60,000 or more. A standalone laneway suite (above a garage) takes six-to-eight months and generally costs between $175,000 and $250,000.

Francis adds most of the secondary suites he has built (including a recent laneway home in Ramsay) have been in Calgary’s inner-city core, where, even in a downturn, suites can command rents of $1,400-plus per month.