March 12, 2018 4:22 pm

Danielle Smith: Secondary suites reform a win for property rights

Calgary city council debated a proposal to put secondary suite approval in the hands of administration on March 12, 2018.

John Himpe / Global News

I’ve been puzzled about why it is that people I normally agree with – sensible conservatives – are completely on the opposite side when it comes to the issue of secondary suites.

I think I may have figured it out.

Council is considering a process that if approved, would let city administration decide whether to approve or deny secondary suites within the perimeters council has agreed to. That is how it should be.

The job of elected members is to set the limits; the job of the administration is to manage the process.

Not only does this give council more time to deal with other pressing matters, it returns some power to property owners to manage their property as they see fit.

WATCH BELOW: Calgary mulls new rules for secondary suites

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READ MORE: Marathon meeting as Calgary city council talks secondary suites

I see the issue as one of property rights. I have a very hands-off view of how the government should control your use of your property. You should be able to use your property in any way you choose as long as you don’t create a nuisance for your neighbour.

A real nuisance. Not a hypothetical one.

That is where I think normally sensible conservatives go off the rails in opposing any changes to the zoning rules around secondary suites.

LISTEN: Jeremy Barretto with ‘Calgarians for Secondary Suites’ discusses why they support secondary suites 

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I think critics make certain assumptions. They assume a massive number of homes will convert to suites. They assume it will be so profitable, the owners will rent entire homes out to multiple tenants instead of occupying their homes themselves. They assume it will add to the number of cars in the neighbourhood and jam up parking. They assume renters are all going to be riff raff and allow the property to fall into disrepair. They assume slum landlords are going to run them like flophouses – that crime will go up and their property values will go down.

Those of us who support secondary suites have a lot more faith in property owners. As Bill so nicely put it when he called the show: no one buys a $450,000 home hoping for it to be trashed.

You have little reason to worry about an owner who is willing to go through the process of creating a legal suite. If they do, it means they are a rule follower: they are going to live on site, they are going to go the extra mile to get good tenants, they are going to keep up with maintenance and they are going to ensure there is sufficient parking – as required by the rules.

Owner-landlords are also going to be the first to be impacted by an obnoxious tenant. They don’t want criminals, drug addicts or late night partiers in their basement any more than you do.

LISTEN: Bill calls into the show to talk about secondary suites

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Let’s acknowledge that most people who are going to occupy a secondary suite are going to be a family member (aging parent or not-quite-out-of-the nest millennial), a student or a single, working person who can’t yet afford to buy. Those who are going to want to rent out a suite are probably doing it to either help support a family member or because they need to money to help pay off their house.

Why anyone would begrudge their decision is beyond me.

READ MORE: Calgary couple hopes their secondary suite experience can prompt change

“Single-family” does not automatically mean “zero nuisance” either. We don’t have laws about how many people can live in a single-family home or how many cars can be parked out front. A single family with four teenagers could cause even more of a nuisance if the family owns six cars and likes to host house parties on the weekend. By comparison, a widow renting her basement to a SAIT student at a house along an LRT line is not even going to be noticed by her neighbours.

The main focus for city council members should be dealing with real problems, not imaginary ones. By all means, if a secondary suite is operated in such a way that is unsafe, unsanitary and unsavoury – have a process to get the discretionary use revoked.

But let’s have a little faith in property owners that they have their own and our best interests in mind.

Danielle Smith can be reached at

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