City of Calgary looks to extend secondary suite amnesty program

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City of Calgary looks to extend secondary suite amnesty program
The City of Calgary is eyeing another extension to its amnesty program for landlords to bring secondary suites into compliance. As Adam MacVicar reports, there are some who are concerned about the effects of illegal rental units in their neighbourhood. – Nov 9, 2023

The City of Calgary is proposing a three-year extension to its secondary suite amnesty program, but some residents want to see enforcement of non-compliant properties sooner than 2026.

The program is set to expire at the end of the year, but city administration is recommending the extension citing its “increasing success.”

Since it was approved in 2018, more than 11,000 suites were registered on the city’s Secondary Suite Registry. An average of 2,500 suites were registered per year over the last three years.

“It’s really hard to downplay how important this change has been, and how much more we’ve made a positive effect on the safety of the units that are available to Calgarians,” said Josh Howes, the City of Calgary’s secondary suites program manager. “We want to continue to affect that change.”

The program aims to incentivize landlords to voluntarily legalize their secondary suites by waiving the development permit and registration fees for all suites.

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To date, around $5.8 million in development permit and registration fees have been waived since the program was introduced.

The city said secondary suites play a critical role in increasing housing affordability in Calgary.

“The life safety aspect of this is critical and that’s ultimately what we’re trying to achieve here is to make sure that housing is provided, but housing that’s safe,” Ward 10 Coun. Andre Chabot told Global News.

However, some Calgarians have concerns about the effects of illegal and unregistered suites in their neighbourhood.

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Ken Briand lives next door to an unregistered secondary suite in his southwest Calgary neighbourhood, and said it’s created issues around parking on an already congested street.

Despite his driveway being obstructed, he said he’s concerned about safety as the suite is amongst the thousands that aren’t registered with the city.

“The wiring of the fuse box, do they have a fire alarm for each place in case one guy screws up and leaves the pot on the stove? Different thermostats? Just all the stuff that you’ve got to do,” he told Global News. “I don’t believe some of these landlords do.”

He explained he’d like to see more measures to enforce unregistered suites.

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“If a guy gets caught doing this, I think there should be a whopping slap on the wrist like a $5,000 penalty or something to just stop it,” he said.

The city admits that owners’ willingness to convert their suites into compliance is a factor outside of their control, and the program requires illegal suite owner buy-in.

During the amnesty program, the city refrains from enforcing rules to work with property owners to bring their suites into compliance, or shut down the suite.

Howes said the mechanism for enforcement are still in place during the amnesty program, but the city’s focus is on education to incentivize more owners to register their suite.

“We try and inform people of what they need to accomplish, what they need to do to legalize their suite, we help get them down the right path, provide them the the requirements in terms of applications,” Howes said. “We give them a sense of what it will look like and cost and all that and then we support them through the legalization process.”

Howes encouraged people to report any concerns with secondary suites as the city gathers feedback on the program.

Registered and legal secondary suites have several requirements including bedrooms with proper egress windows, separate bathroom and cooking facilities, and a separate entrance that’s accessible.

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There are also parking requirements on properties with secondary suites, and street parking doesn’t count towards those requirements.

In terms of safety, there must be interconnected fire and smoke detectors, and a smoke seal between the lower unit and the upper unit.

“I would encourage people that if they have an illegal suite, contact the City of Calgary, bring it into compliance, make sure that it’s safe and legal,” Chabot said.

An extension of the amnesty program was unanimously endorsed by the city’s Infrastructure and Planning Committee and will now go to city council as a whole for a final decision.

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