Our group NOT4RZ has put a lot of time and effort into researching the secondary suites issue. We've also tried to be realistic in finding a solution that is palatable to most homeowners. We have found that while there are some current RC-1 homeowners who are completely opposed to any kind of secondary suites, the majority are willing to consider suites in their neighborhood provided certain basic conditions are met.
The most crucial element is that a homeowner lives in the home with the suite. We call them "secondary suites" for a reason: they are secondary to the main resident in the home. They were never intended to become dwellings that could be divided into 2 units, each of which could be rented out to a different party. We've heard from so many people who report problems with a suite in their neighborhood, and most of them have involved an absentee landlord renting out his home as essentially a de facto duplex. Without a homeowner in the home, tenant behavior often is less than ideal, and the properties seem to go unmowed, unshovelled and unmaintained.
The residents who bought R-1 properties tell us that they bought R-1 to get away from rental units around them. They wanted a stable and permanent neighborhood, and most had that for a long time until the secondary suites arrived around them. It used to be when a house in the neighborhood was sold, they wondered who the new neighbors would be, but now they live in fear that an investor might buy it and turn it into a double rental unit. This was never the intent of allowing for a secondary suite. Many residents assume that a homeowner has to live in the dwelling, and are surprised to find out that this is not the case.
If it is true that we can only regulate the use, not the user, then that is not in keeping with the intent of allowing a homeowner to rent out a portion of his home. Even Mayor Nenshi had owner-occupancy as a requirement in his election campaign, which makes me wonder why his advisors or city planners would have never mentioned that if it was truly impossible to implement.
The other element that homeowners are unhappy with is the prospect of backyard suites and over-the-garage suites. While those would be a discretionary use, in reality this means little as we've seen in the case of many secondary suite rezoning where neighbors and the Community Association oppose a suite, but city planners recommend that it proceed. The mandate of the planning department appears to be to increase density where feasible, even when this is contrary to neighbors' wishes. Applying for a DP would only mean going to the Planning Department (no public debate) and whether or not it is discretionary, they appear to approve more projects than they reject.
A homeowner might not be opposed to a neighbor building a basement suite, but could be very opposed to a 2nd-storey garage suite. Unfortunately, once the zoning is changed, both are options. I've just watched most of the Council Meeting from June 15, and there were 2 proposals where this was the case. In 7.6, in Elbow Park, 16 residents opposed an over-the-garage project, yet said they would have been okay with a basement suite. In 7.8, on Bow Crescent, a suite would be approved if it was a garage or backyard suite, but not a basement (because it is in the flood fringe area). Yet the rezoning happens before the DP, so the neighbors have to oppose the proposal in order to be sure they won't end up with something they feel is inappropriate beside them. They do not "trust" the Planning Department to look out for their interests.
Finally, homeowners with suites next to them are fed up with the lack of bylaw and other enforcement or maintenance. They report illegal suites, unkempt properties, parking issues, houses and fences falling into disrepair, noise or poor behavior from tenants, and other issues. Many have repeatedly called 311, but they don't see anything changing around them. They are totally frustrated and they lament the loss of "the way things used to be" when they first lived in that R-1 neighborhood. The report states "that Calgary currently has bylaws in place to deal with complaints that may be associated with any kind of residential property, whether a secondary suite or otherwise". Homeowners tell us that absentee landlords are a problem and when there are 2 units, the problems seem to double.
The Secondary Suites - Update, PUD2015-0442 had a chance to address some of those concerns and failed to do so: it provided no meaningful solutions whatsoever. (Although 3 issues were examined, the plebiscite and TOD-oriented developments are not the major concern of most homeowners that we have heard from, so I'll focus on the potential licensing system.)
Administration recommended a voluntary registry instead of any form of licensing.
- There are anywhere from 16,000 to 50,000 illegal suites in the city, and only 550 legal ones. Presumably only the legal ones would sign up for the registry. Expecting the illegal ones to volunteer is akin to the Calgary Police Department implementing a voluntary Fentanyl Drug Dealer Registry or Revenue Canada rolling out a Tax Evader Registry.
Given we have only 3% of all suites in the city that are legal, this would apply to only 3% of all suites. It does nothing to address the other 97%. Why is the recommendation for something that does not affect the overwhelming majority of properties?
Administration feels the registry would encourage applicants to sign up because they would want to be on the list: it would make their property more attractive to renters and would provide a means for potential renters to even find out about the property. Proponents of secondary suites often state that most suites are rented out to family members, extended families or grandmothers - surely your grandmother doesn't need a registry to find out where you live or to check if it is legal and safe?
- Voluntary as opposed to compulsory: The idea of a registry is that you can look up an address, check if they are listed on the registry and you would know it was safe, legal and compliant with all bylaws and development requirements. If it is not on the list, it isn't. Except it doesn't work that way if it is voluntary. A homeowner might not sign up for the registry because he doesn't want to bother, because of privacy concerns, or because he truly is using the suite for a family member and doesn't see any need to be listed on a registry.
The idea is like a car license: if you have a license, you can see it at a glance. If you don't you get pulled over and dealt with. This falls apart if you can get pulled over and then drag the license out of your glove box. You might technically be legal, but there really is no obvious way of telling. Everyone needs to do the same thing or it doesn't work at all.
Anyone should be able to view information on line about a suite through a quick check on the registry, and if it's not on there, it's not legal, and gets sent to bylaw for further enforcement.
- From Page 3 / 9 - "As described in Attachment 1, a potential Secondary Suite Bylaw would require any secondary suite to have a license. Before the City issues a license, the applicant would have to demonstrate that the necessary planning approvals are in place, including compliance with the Land Use Bylaw, a Development Permit, and building and trade permits. The main function of the license, then, would be to provide a "one-window" mechanism for ensuring compliance with applicable rules."
Perfect: this is what we want - a mechanism for ensuring compliance with applicable rules! Yet, the report states that this provides "no clear advantage over the registry option". Licensing definitely provides many advantages, as the report itself states:
"… a successful safety inspection would be a pre-requisite to obtaining a license. The licensing approach would place greater emphasis on the enforcement component. That is, it would be prohibited to operate a suite without a license." Homeowners want greater enforcement: licensing can do this, a registry can't.
- The "applicable rules" part of the licensing means we can set some of the rules we want to see enforced. We can consider a homeowner-occupied requirement similar to our current home-based business license model. You can only have a business license for one home, so if you could only have one license you can only have one home with a suite: no investors buying multiple properties to divide and rent out.
- A license "provides for suspension, revocation or penalty for non-compliance with terms of the registry / license". This provides an incentive for the homeowner to act in a manner that does not negatively affect his neighbors because if there are complaints, he may not get his license renewed. Also, each new owner of the property would have to apply for a new license, so they cannot be "grandfathered" into a situation automatically. They have to be aware of the rules that apply in order to get a license in the first place. A registry with no provision to revoke does nothing to encourage continued compliance.
Administration's own report advises against rezoning in 4 ward areas!
Page 7 / 8, A potential licensing system for secondary suites:
Council's direction from the 2015 May 11 deliberations on CPC2015-070 recommended that Administration address a "secondary suite registry / license for all new secondary suites in Wards 7, 8, 9 and 11." It should be noted that Administration does not recommend the implementation of a registry or license program that is limited only to new suites, or only to selected geographical areas. A key benefit of a registry or license program would be to bring existing illegal suites into compliance with land use rules and safety codes. Limiting the program to new suites would not contribute to achieving this benefit. As well, currently it is possible to have secondary suites in land use districts that are distributed across the city; it would be preferable to bring as many suites as possible into the ambit of the registry or license program, not just those in selected wards. Otherwise there would be a disparity between the requirements and enforceability of the registry or license provisions based on location and no other reason. While it is possible for a bylaw to prescribe different rules of applicability for different geographical areas, such distinctions must be made for a defensible reason. In this instance there is no obvious reason to limit the application of the registry or license program to particular locations.
Why are we even still considering rezoning 4 wards when Administration itself recommends against this approach?
- Confusion around the Rezoning Procedure:
Technically, this is not a "rezoning", but rather a land use reclassification. Originally, correspondence indicated the change would be denoted by adding an 's' to the RC-1 designation, to make it an RC-1s. Anybody can see at a glance what that means. This is what currently happens when council approves a redesignation in an RC-1 area. The proposed way of enacting this is confusing at best.
Consider Dalhousie, part of Ward 7, but surrounded by Ward 1, 2 and 4. If Ward boundaries change, Dalhousie is the prime candidate to move out of Ward 7 and into one of the others. If the rezoning goes through, Dalhousie would be part of Suites Area 1 and would allow suites. A property would still have only an RC-1 designation, but it would allow for suites, unlike the neighboring RC-1 property in Ranchlands (Ward 2). A potential buyer from out of town would have to have carefully look at what he was buying and would have to know about Suites Area 1.
Now, imagine Dalhousie joins Ranchlands and becomes part of Ward 2 after a boundary re-alignment. Both would be RC-1 homes, both would be in Ward 2, but Dalhousie would have suites because it was previously in Suite Area 1. Confusing? Definitely. A prospective buyer from out of town looking for an RC-1 property would never figure this out.
Administration says this is a much simpler way of doing things, because to change the title on each and every home would be an expensive and time-consuming method as each homeowner would have to be notified. I suspect it's largely because each and every homeowner would react upon seeing they no longer have a clear RC-1 home. With a Suites Area 1 proposal, they are kept in the dark and may not even be aware of what is happening.
- Lack of Notification:
We object to the lack of information most homeowners even have about this proposal. For the record, the open house for Brentwood and Dalhousie (Ward 7) residents was held in early March at Fort Calgary. How many homeowners venture out in the winter in the evening to drive all the way to Fort Calgary? Only about 740 homeowners out of over 67,000 homes in Wards 7,8,9 and 11 attended one of 4 meetings, and no further meetings were held after that date.
Before a rezoning, there should be adequate community consultation, and that hardly qualifies. We need more consultation to get petunias planted through the LEAF program than we do to a land use redesignation that affects 35,395 property owners.
For all those reasons, the proposed land use amendments for Wards 7,8,9 and 11 should not go ahead on June 29. It is a city-wide issue, not a 4-Ward issue.
If City Council wants to make any progress on the Secondary Suites issue, they need to direct Administration to come up with a workable set of rules and guidelines. If a voluntary registry is the best solution that Administration and Planning can come up with, then maybe RC-1 homeowners have some better ideas.
on behalf of NOT4RZ
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