Dear Councillors,

Regarding the SPC on Planning and Urban Development – June 10, 2015 – PUD2015-0442
Attachment 1 – A potential licensing system for secondary suites

Administration was asked to consider the registry / licensing model for secondary suites in Calgary.

They considered 2 municipalities, Vancouver and Mississauga, and determined that their rates for legalizing suites after implementing a licensing system were very low, about 100 per year for Vancouver, and about 67 in one and one-half years in Mississauga. Therefore it was decided that licensing was not effective, and the City of Calgary would instead implement a voluntary registry.

As stated in a previous email, a voluntary registry would presumably only be sought after by legal suites, as it is hard to phathom why an illegal suite owner would want to apply. Legal suites number about 3% of all estimated suites in the City of Calgary. Leaving 97% without a requirement for licensing means only that they will be “encouraged” and “educated” in such a manner that they hopefully decide to make their suites legal. While optimism is undoubtedly a great trait to have, I would suggest it is a less than effective tool for a Planning Department.

I’ve been researching a more successful model, that of Surrey, B.C., and have attached a document with a timeline of dates during their Secondary Suites Process. I spoke to several people in the Surrey Planning Department and the Secondary Suites Tax area, and have learned the following:

Surrey officials decided they had to get serious about secondary suite enforcement and have implemented proactive bylaw processes, fees for secondary suites (utilities and garbage and use of infrastructure), and fees for not declaring a suite ($1000.00). All fees and fines are automatically added to property taxes.

Surrey Population – about 500,000
Surrey # of registered suites – 2011 – 17,000
Surrey # of registered suites – 2015 - 27,000

Year the $1000.00 fee for not declaring a suite was added: 2014
Number of new registrations in the first few weeks of February 2014: 3,000

Annual fee for a suite (2015) - $668.00
Total revenue – 27,000 x $668.00 = $18,036,000
Plus fines of $1000 for not declaring a suite.

Number of full time bylaw officers : 24
Number of full time bylaw officers for secondary suites: 2

How they find suites: Craigslist, Kijiji, neighbors, complaints, driving around looking for signs of suites, RCMP reports, and other proactive methods.
What happens when bylaw finds a suite: owner has 30 days to either decommission the suite or declare the suite and pay the $668.00 per year.

Requirements for decomissioning a suite:

  1. Removal of stove.
  2. Removal of wiring for stove. Wall has to be drywalled and closed off.
  3. Removal of breaker for stove from electrical panel.
  4. Removal of hood fan and wiring for hood fan.

Homeowner has to live in the suite: technically, they can’t enforce that the homeowner lives in a home, but they can enforce that only homes with a homeowner living in them can have a suite. If the homeowner does not live there, it has to be decommissioned. Bylaw is active in looking for homeowners living in the home: they respond to neighbor reports, and a homeowner cannot have permits for more than one home since he can’t live in 2 at once.

Biggest problem: multiple suites. Many homeowners have 2 or even 3 suites within one property, especially if there is a coach house or a garage suite.
Coach or garage suites are enough of a problem that there is a consideration in the works for eliminating these options for secondary suites.
A homeowner can only accommodate a certain number of people in a home comfortably, but if you add a coach or garage suite, you also add more possible tenants to the maximum you already have. This is a huge problem for the cit of Surrey. They are considering whether allowable secondary suites should be within the main home only (mostly basement suites).

Parking problems are also huge, especially in areas with narrow lot widths. If you have 2 suites in a home, with 2 separate groups of renters, it’s easy to imagine 4 cars. If you add another 1 or 2 for the coach house, you can have 5 – 6 cars per property. It is another reason they are considering eliminating the coach or garage house possibility.

Yearly declaration form:
The homeowner must certify that the home contains only ___ suite (s) or he will be fined for lying about it if bylaw finds out later. The owner also signs that he is aware that a yearly fee will be charged ($668.00 in 2015).

New homes: All new homes are assumed to have a secondary suite and will be automatically charged the $668.00 fee unless they can prove through inspection of their home that they do not have a suite and have not put in the wiring, etc. for a suite. Surrey has decided to put the onus on the homeowner to prove they will not be building a suite.

The bylaw officials I spoke to emphasized that a proactive approach was best. They suggested that coach houses are an invitation to the creation of multiple suites, and it would be best to consider them carefully and have strict rules in place before they become widespread. When housing is expensive, the temptation to create more than one suite is easily possible with coach and garage houses, so “tread carefully”.

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