‘Suite’ opportunities in detached sector?

Regulation changes could make investment market more attractive

Recent changes to secondary suite regulations could spell good news for investors looking for opportunities in Calgary’s detached housing sector.

In late November, city council voted to relax the regulations on lot size and increase the amount of floor space allowed in the suites.

Under the new rules, homes zoned R-C1Ls, R-C1s and R-1s will have the minimum lot width removed altogether, while homes zoned R-C1N, R-C2, R-1N and R-2 l will see the minimum lot width reduced to nine metres.

The changes will also increase the maximum size on basement suites from 75 to 100 square metres.

The change was initiated by councillors Andre Chabot and Gian-Carlo Carra, who brought forward a motion to change the regulations.

In September, the City also launched an 18-month development permit, making it less expensive, faster and easier for homeowners to develop a legal and safe secondary suite.

The permit application and fee is being waived for properties that currently have the proper zoning to allow suites and meet all the requirements of the land-use bylaw.

In October, the City also launched an online secondary suite registry and sticker program that’s designed to 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 was one of the first in Calgary to receive 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.

The number of legal suites on the registry currently sits around 500. 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.

“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.”

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