Edmonton to allow secondary rental suites in duplexes and townhomes

Single family homes and high-density complexes exist side-by-side in the southwest Edmonton communities of Ambleside and Windermere. May 3, 2018. Vinesh Pratap, Global News

Edmonton city council gave the green light Monday for home owners to add secondary suites to their properties in more instances.

Effectively immediately, the city will now allow secondary rental suites to be built in duplexes and townhomes. Previously, self-contained suites were legal only in single detached homes, although that didn’t stop people from building illegal suites anyways.

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Monday’s move is aimed at increasing density, as well as giving an opportunity for seniors to age in place in a smaller space in their long time homes.

Basement suites that are smaller than the original home will be allowed in duplexes, meaning as many as four residences can be on a single lot where once a single family home stood.

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LISTEN BELOW: Councillor Andrew Knack speaks with the 630 CHED Afternoon News

The vote is also part of a pattern by city council to change the rules to increase density in mature neighborhoods, where as many as four doors of row houses will be allowed.

In this Regina neighbourhood, there are four homes on what used to be two lots. Two of the new houses are up-and-down suites, which intensifies the number of people in the neighbourhood. Sean Lerat-Stetner / Global News

Councillor Andrew Knack said it’s something needed as Edmonton’s population inches towards two million.

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“We’ve lost almost 76,000 people over the last 40 years from our mature communities. That’s not good for viability of schools, that’s not good for the viability of local business. We used to have corner stores in most mature neighborhoods. We don’t have the population base to sustain that,” Knack said.

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Council heard debate over a fourplex proposal on 89 Avenue, near 150 Street in Jasper Park. The area’s community league objected because they saw it as a continued pattern to approve individual proposals, without changing the rules city-wide. Jasper Park Community League treasurer Byron Kwasnitza said he expects to see corner lots spring up with fourplexes everywhere.

“It’s not a matter of if, it’s a matter of when,” he said.

Councillor Scott McKeen agrees.

“Developers will take the risk of building narrow lot homes, ‘skinnies,’ in a really affluent or highly desirable neighborhood — maybe three or four or five of those in the whole city. Everywhere else, modern housing in mature neighborhoods is probably going to be row housing. We’re going to see a lot more of this.”

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Edmonton’s new ‘skinny homes’, located at 8318-79 Avenue, in the King Edward Park area, January 10, 2014. Vinesh Pratap, Global News

In order to be a legal secondary suite, each one will need its own dedicated parking spot, a separate entrance and a heating and ventilation system separate from the main unit. The units also can only be rented, not sold off as a separate property.

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Mayor Don Iveson said the changes give both owners and renters more options, but has heard concerns about how the changes could affect a neighbourhood’s look and feel.

“People were concerned that, you know, all of a sudden this would change their entire neighbourhood,” Iveson said.

“But I don’t see a huge risk that neighbourhoods are going to be beset with secondary suites in every house. We didn’t see that when we allowed them in detached houses. I don’t think we’re going to see that all up and down the block where there are duplexes.”

An older townhome in Calgary.
An older townhome in Calgary. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jeff McIntosh

Councillor Ben Henderson has asked for changes to come in how council deals with densification, so new rules replace what was set a decade ago and now appears to be out of date.

“It doesn’t improve people’s faith in the system if we continue to do exception after exception after exception after exception — and arguably, if we’re always doing the same exception then I suggest we have something wrong in the original policy,” Henderson said.

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Townhouse secondary suites will likely be in new builds, since renovating a existing suite to meet fire and building codes would be cost prohibitive and difficult in small spaces.

“Bottom line is, more affordable housing options,” Iveson said. “We figure 500+ units could be developed under these provisions in the next few years. That makes a huge difference for all those families who either need that housing or might benefit from building it in their own property.”

READ MORE: Two-thirds of Edmontonians can’t afford today’s housing prices

City council unanimously approved the changes, which are effective immediately.

City administration continues to work on what they’re calling “infill 2.0,” and will have an update before city council in November.

— With files from Karen Bartko, Global News

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