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Hi all,

On June 10, 2015, the SPC (Standing Policy Committee) on Planning and Urban Development met to discuss numerous issues, and the Secondary Suites Update (PUD2015-0442) was among them. Council had previously directly that Administration report back on three issues, and in this meeting, the results were presented.

There were 3 items on the agenda:

  1. A potential licensing system for secondary suites
  2. Procedure and cost of a vote on a question (plebiscite)
  3. Allowing secondary suites around rapid transit stations

Complete details are available here, under item 4.1: http://agendaminutes.calgary.ca/sirepub/mtgviewer.aspx?meetid=1610&doctype=MINUTES

On this site you will also find the Cover Report, as well as a detailed attachments for each item. To summarize:

  1. City Planners have recommended a Voluntary Registry instead of any kind of Licensing system for secondary suites.
    Some key points from the report:

    There are similarities between a registry and a licence program, as well as some key differences. These are summarized below.

    FeatureRegistryLicence
    Safety codes compliance is a prerequisiteYesYes
    Applies to family-occupied as well as rental suitesYesYes
    Mandatory process for suite ownersNo–voluntaryYes
    Provides right to inspect for CityNoNo
    Provides for suspension, revocation or penalty for non-compliance with terms of the registry/licenceNoYes
    Provides a searchable list of suites inspected for safetyYesYes
    Cost to suite ownerFree first yearTo be determined
    Annual renewal requiredYesYes
    Requires a new BylawNoYes
    Requires adding staff to support inspection and enforcement functionsNoYes


    A licence can be revoked, have conditions added or be refused for renewal if the terms of the relevant licence bylaw are not complied with, a registry would not.

    Compliance and Enforcement
    Presently enforcement of bylaws and safety codes for suites is only carried out based on complaints.
    In 2014, approximately 1,000 complaints about potentially illegal secondary suites were recorded in the 3-1-1 system.

    It should be noted 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.
    Property maintenance, nuisances, noise and many other matters are addressed in the Community Standards Bylaw.
    Parking is regulated by the Land Use Bylaw as well as the Street Bylaw and Traffic Bylaw. Adding a licence requirement for secondary suites would not change or enhance the enforceability of these other bylaws.


  2. City Planners recommended against a “plebiscite”, but Councillors motioned to keep that option open for now.

    Note: The MGA (Municipal Government Act) no longer uses the term “plebiscite”, and instead refers to the process as simply a question that is put to the electorate for a vote.
    There are some considerations for a “plebiscite”:
    1. Cost would be about $390,000 if held with the next election in 2017.
    2. The results are not legally binding for council.
    3. The question to be asked would have to be determined.


    (You might get different results depending on the question you asked. You might be in favor of a secondary suite in the basement where the homeowner lives in the upstairs dwelling, but you might not be in favor of an absentee landlord who wants to build a backyard suite or a suite over his garage.)


  3. City Planners recommended against allowing secondary suites around rapid transit stations

    A consideration was given to allowing secondary suites within an approximate 600 meter radius of LRT stations. City planners recommended against this because essentially it limits the density of those areas. If the current RC-1 homes become secondary suite properties, this actually encourages the retention of lower density housing forms (instead of higher density forms such as condos, apartments, or other similar dwellings). This is no longer a matter for further consideration.

I think item #1 is the most important item. A voluntary registry is low-cost and easy to implement, but a licensing approach woul place greater emphasis on the enforcement component. Considering that there are only 550 legal suites out of a minimum of 16,000 in Calgary, presumably only the legal ones would want to register themselves. The effectiveness of a registry that is fully voluntary is questionable. How would it make the illegal ones want to change what they are already doing?

Thank you for your interest,

Melanie Swailes


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