Wednesday, January 11, 2017

Secondary suite successes: programs boost number of legal suites

It’s a sweet time to build a secondary suite – or at least, that’s what 383 families decided after The City of Calgary introduced a development permit exemption for basement suites and an online suite registry in September 2015.

That’s over 400 per cent more secondary suite applications than The City received previously on a monthly basis.

“It’s a faster, cheaper and easier process to build a basement suite in areas where they’re already permitted; you can go straight to the building permit phase,” says City of Calgary Senior Special Projects Officer Cliff de Jong. “Because of that and the introduction of the registry, we’re seeing more Calgarians than ever before build a new suite or make their existing suite safe and legal.”

Applicants can skip the development permit process entirely if they meet the rules of the Land Use Bylaw, saving up to $2,000 in application costs, which includes commissioning architectural drawings. In some instances, you may still require a land use redesignation or development permit; in which case, the fees for both are currently waived. The exemption is a pilot project that could end in March 2017, but is up for discussion at City Council on Feb. 13 (after being deferred at the Jan. 16 City Council meeting).

“I think as a homeowner, it’s easy to say, ‘I can get this basement development permitted in a day, but a secondary suite development takes three months,’” says Calgary secondary suite owner Sean Hayes. “Now, with the development permit exemption, you may be able to get that secondary suite development in a day or two as well.”

The launch of both secondary suite programs has helped to create conversations between The City and citizens in person and on social media, says de Jong.

“We’ve been talking to people on a number of platforms and getting a lot of positive feedback about the online registry and development permit exemption,” says de Jong. “We know the process can be confusing; sometimes people are misinformed about what it takes to build a legal and safe suite. Social media is an easy way to direct them to the correct information and for us to be a part of the online conversation.”

Calgary basement suite owner Kim Ketchum says that in particular, the online secondary suite registry has helped her talk to her neighbours about secondary suites.

“The registry is important for the community,” Ketchum says. “I think it’s really important that the image of secondary suites is enhanced within the city. I think the registry can help do this, because my next door neighbour, somebody down the street or two blocks over can go to the website, pop in my address and see whether or not the suite is legal. When they see that it is registered, then that can help change perceptions around secondary suites and people will know all of Alberta’s safety code requirements have been met.”

To learn more about renting or building a secondary suite, visit

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