Students’ Union backs mayor’s proposal for secondary suites

The Students’ Union is working with Mayor Naheed Nenshi to relax regulations regarding secondary suites. Nenshi is proposing secondary suites be legalized in all Calgary neighbourhoods, but that they should be subject to three conditions — the suite must meet all health and safety codes; the landlord must provide a parking spot, though this will be waived if the property is within 500 metres of an LRT station; and the owner must live on the property.

On Feb. 16 the SU will present before the Land Use Planning Committee, along with other stakeholders, to discuss the regulations of secondary suites. If Nenshi’s proposed secondary suite regulations pass through the committee, they will go on the council agenda in early March.

“We’ve heard a number of stories from students about the living situation they face in secondary suites,” said SU vice-president external Hardave Birk. “It’s not to say that every illegal suite is bad, many times illegal suites are just unnecessarily illegal because the process to make them legal is too convoluted and costs too much.”

Birk said illegal suites in the city are affecting a number of students every day.

“There’s the possibility that a number of secondary suites don’t have safety restrictions, which means that students are constantly put in danger every single day when they go home,” said Birk. “Changing these regulations would make it a lot easier for people to build legal secondary suites in the city and therefore increase the amount of safe and affordable suites in the city.”

There are an estimated 10,000- 40,000 illegal suites in the city currently.

“If we were to actively enforce the law, right now it’s just enforced on a complaint basis, we’d throw thousands of Calgarians onto the streets,” said the mayor’s chief-of-staff, Chima Nkemdirim. “There’s nowhere for them to go. Right now, all tenants who live in secondary suites have no rights, so if your suite is illegal and the landlord is not maintaining the property, you can’t do anything because the city’s only remedy is to take out the stove and shut the suite down.”

In the current system, if homeowners want to legalize a suite, they have to spend $4,000-$5,000 to bring their application before city council.

“The biggest problem with the current system is that it puts unnecessary barriers in the way of anyone who wants to build a secondary suite and disincentivizes actually building a legal suite,” said Birk.

Arguments against secondary suites include suites changing the character of communities, lowering property values and becoming a parking concern.

Ward One alderman Dale Hodges, who represents Brentwood and other near-by communities, has been a vocal opponent of secondary suites for years. He was unavailable for comment.

There has been contention about Nenshi’s third requirement, which states the homeowner has to live on the property, because of issues around enforceability and appropriateness.

“It’s a reasonable compromise with the idea of giving some assurances to some of the people who are concerned about this policy, that the homeowner will be on site and responsible for maintaining the property,” said Nkemdirim.

“It’s about time we do what every other major city has already done and if you compare us to Vancouver, Edmonton, Lethbridge or Montreal, we have by far the most stringent rules, and there’s no rational for us to have those rules,” said Birk.

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