News / Calgary

Secondary Suite complaints on the decline: City of Calgary

Fewer illegal suites are getting shuttered as more homeowners take the legal route

The City of Calgary has been getting fewer secondary suite complaints since they peaked in 2015, and fewer suites are being closed down due to regulation issues.

Jennifer Friesen / For Metro

The City of Calgary has been getting fewer secondary suite complaints since they peaked in 2015, and fewer suites are being closed down due to regulation issues.

Complaints about illegal secondary suites in Calgary are trending down, as are the number of suites forced to close after a visit from a city inspector, according to data provided by the city.

The issue of illegal basements suites resurfaced this week after Calgary city council held its first public hearings about the controversial units Monday.

Mayor Naheed Nenshi said he's expecting to hear a proposal that would allow administration to handle applications, taking the matter out of councillors' hands.

And while applications often bring out dozens of neighbors who are opposed to having increased density in their neighborhood, illegal secondary suites are one of the worst kept secrets in the rental market.

The city doesn’t actively seek out these suites, but complaints from a neighbor will trigger a visit from a city inspector.

"It could be internal or external complaints that come from all walks of life, and even the tenants themselves," said Marco Civitarese, chief building official with the city of Calgary.

Numbers obtained by Metro show that those complaints peaked in 2015, with 1261 in that year. The following year, 1046 people complained about a suite in their neighborhood, and so far this year, the city has received 888 complaints.

At the same time, unfounded complaints reported by the city are on the rise – up from 51 in 2014 to 237 year-to-date in 2017.

When a suite is found to be illegal, the fastest way to solve the problem is to remove the suite's stove, according to Civitarese, so that's what the city orders the homeowner to do.

Orders to remove stoves also peaked with complaints in 2015. That year, 1086 orders were given. In 2016 the number dropped to 759 and so far this year, 594 stoves have been ordered removed.

Civitarese said sometimes inspectors show up to find that a home's zoning allows for a suite, but there are still building code problems that need to be addressed.

"If we do go to a site, the complaint is valid yet it's in the right land use district, then we walk them through the process of making it legit as far as safety goes."

Homeowners are getting the message and taking steps to bring their suites up to code.

Between June 2007, when bylaws were first changed to allow for suites, and December 2015, there were 458 legal secondary suites registered in the city. In 2016, 191 more legal suites were added to that list. So far this year, 212 suites have been registered.

Coun. Jyoti Gondek said she was a bit surprised by the climbing number of unfounded complaints, and she said she'd like to gather more information on why these complaints were being made.

"The positive side of me would like to think that people are concerned about other people's safety," she said.

Gondek said the awareness around the legality of suites has been raised by the ongoing council meetings and attention in the media.

Seeing the issue politicized it part of the reason why she wants to see the matter reformed sooner, rather than later.

"What's happening right now is political decision making, which is not in the best interest of an objective system," said Gondek.

She said putting council decisions into the hands of administration will ensure that guidelines are being followed in a rational rather than emotional way.

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