Sec­ondary suites. Two words: Fix this

Calgary Sun - - HOMES - myke thomas MThomas@post­media.com 403•250•4324 @sun­mykethomas

Sec­ondary suites. Two words that have made peo­ple cry. Two words that have frus­trated city coun­cil­lors for years.

Two words that have in­fu­ri­ated neigh­bours.

Two words that lead to wast­ing hours in coun­cil cham­bers for ap­pli­ca­tions to be pre­sented and, hope­fully, ap­proved.

The City of Cal­gary has the most ar­chaic ap­provals sys­tem in Canada and yet, peo­ple show up with their fees paid and ap­pli­ca­tions in hand to plead their cases to city coun­cil.

Many times, those plead­ing their cases have to open up their pri­vate lives.

I re­call, last Septem­ber, a widow, with no pen­sion and liv­ing be­low the poverty line, made her ap­pli­ca­tion.

She had lived in her home for four decades, but on a lim­ited in­come, couldn’t af­ford to stay in her home, even though it was paid off years ago. She said she couldn’t af­ford the high taxes.

A sec­ondary suite would pro­vide enough rev­enue for her to stay in her home, she said, while fight­ing a los­ing bat­tle to hold back her tears.

There were peo­ple in cham­bers who wept with and for her.

“This is em­bar­rass­ing. We should not have to have cit­i­zens come up and cry about the loss of their spouse and their lack of in­come or about los­ing their job or about a brain in­jury that put them on dis­abil­ity,” said Mayor Na­heed Nen­shi at the time. “Why are we do­ing this to our­selves? No other city in Canada does this and cit­i­zens have a right to be up­set about it.”

Given that pulling your own teeth is less painful, why would any­one go through the ap­pli­ca­tion process?

A sur­vey con­ducted by Square One In­surance Ser­vices of 5,500 home­own­ers in B.C., Al­berta and On­tario sought and found an an­swer to the ques­tion.

“We wanted to con­duct this sur­vey for two rea­sons,” says Daniel Mirkovic, Square One’s pres­i­dent. “We’re notic­ing an in­crease in in­quiries by house own­ers that are rent­ing a por­tion of their home to non­fam­ily mem­bers. We wanted to un­der­stand what was driv­ing this in­crease. We also wanted to un­der­stand how house own­ers are cop­ing with mu­nic­i­pal laws re­lat­ing to ren­tal suites in sin­gle-fam­ily homes.”

The sur­vey found Al­berta has the high­est per­cent­age of home­own­ers who rent out a por­tion of their homes to non-fam­ily mem­bers at 14 per cent, fol­lowed by B.C. at 13 per cent and On­tario at nine per cent.

The top three rea­sons to have ren­tal suites are: Ex­tra in­come (40%); help with mort­gage pay­ments (34%), and; com­pan­ion­ship (14%).

Of spe­cial note, the sur­vey found many sec­ondary suites in sin­gle-fam­ily homes are il­le­gal, led by On­tario at 21 per cent, B.C. at 15 per­cent and Al­berta at 14 per cent.

(Mirkovic adds the ac­tual per­cent­age is likely to be con­sid­er­ably higher as res­i­dents may be re­luc­tant to dis­close il­le­gal ren­tal suites).

On­tario has the high­est num­ber of sec­ondary suites at 233,000, ac­cord­ing to the Cana­dian Mort­gage and Hous­ing Cor­po­ra­tion (CMHC). There are 155,000 in B.C. and more than 125,000 in Al­berta.

CMHC also re­ports sec­ondary suites are usu­ally less ex­pen­sive to rent than apart­ments. For ex­am­ple, the av­er­age cost in Metro Van­cou­ver of a two-bedroom sec­ondary suite is $1,390 per month, while a two-bedroom apart­ment suite is $1,450 per month.

“While mort­gage-helpers are well, help­ful, there are many mu­nic­i­pal reg­u­la­tions that house own­ers need to be aware of. For ex­am­ple, Van­cou­ver and Toronto have capped the num­ber of ren­tal suites al­lowed per sin­gle-fam­ily house to just one,” says Mirkovic. “Other reg­u­la­tions, which vary by mu­nic­i­pal­ity, usu­ally in­clude zon­ing re­stric­tions, build­ing code com­pli­ance, unit size re­stric­tions, min­i­mum park­ing re­quire­ments and in­spec­tion and li­cens­ing com­pli­ance.

“Most mu­nic­i­pal reg­u­la­tions for sec­ondary suites en­sure res­i­dents have ad­e­quate and safe hous­ing op­tions. But some, like the one ren­tal suite per sin­gle-fam­ily house, are just out­dated. It’s hard to un­der­stand why cities ad­vo­cat­ing for more af­ford­able hous­ing op­tions would con­tinue to en­force this out­dated reg­u­la­tion.”

I’m not sure that last idea is go­ing to fly, at least not in Cal­gary.

If you’ve ever watched a sec­ondary suite ap­pli­ca­tion pre­sented in coun­cil cham­bers, you’ve seen neigh­bours up in arms about just one suite in the home.

It costs, on av­er­age, about $25,000 to build a new sec­ondary suite in Cal­gary. (To the end of July 2017, the city’s build­ing per­mit ap­pli­ca­tion state­ment shows 49 sec­ondary suite ap­pli­ca­tions with a to­tal value of $1,256,204 have been ap­proved this year).

Mirkovic re­minds those with sec­ondary suites that they change how your in­surance com­pany looks at your file.

“If you’ve added a ren­tal suite in your home, then you’ve likely in­creased the prop­erty value. Most poli­cies re­quire that you ad­vise your provider of any im­prove­ments over a cer­tain amount. If you fail to do this, then you may be un­der­in­sured in the event of a loss,” he says. “Most poli­cies also re­quire that you ad­vise of any changes in how your home is used. Fail­ing to dis­close ren­tal suites could ren­der your home in­surance void.”

So there’s an added cost, but the cost of time spent nav­i­gat­ing the bu­reau­cratic maze — from fil­ing the ap­pli­ca­tion, ap­pear­ing be­fore the Cal­gary Plan­ning Com­mis­sion, then ar­riv­ing at coun­cil cham­bers an emo­tional wreck — is much too high. We get a new coun­cil in Oc­to­ber. Sec­ondary suites. Two words: Fix this.

“This is em­bar­rass­ing. We should not have to have cit­i­zens come up and cry about the loss of their spouse and their lack of in­come or about los­ing their job or about a brain in­jury that put them on dis­abil­ity.” Cal­gary Mayor Na­heed Nen­shi, quoted in Septem­ber 2016 about sec­ondary suite ap­pli­ca­tions

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