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Ward 1 News: Secondary Suite Update

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Ward 1 official website
News Release - Secondary Suite Pilot
December 2014
Pantheon Research conducted a poll of Calgarians to assess their views and opinions on secondary suites. The potential changes to secondary suite governance and the arguments discussed in Council were examined. Sample includes 4,491 respondents. Data collection was conducted by a telephone survey. Census representative - data weighted by age and gender, based on the 2013 City of Calgary Civic Census.
Secondary Suite Pilot
The Secondary Suites Grant Program provided $200,000 in funds to help property owners bring their suites into conformity with existing land use, development and safety code regulations. From May 2012 to April 2013, The City of Calgary’s Administration executed a Suite Safety Approach Pilot. Administration was directed to review 50 suites in all types of land use districts for Fire and Building Code compliance. The pilot identified: public safety; the need to increase understanding on what constitutes a safe suite; and a call to increase the understanding on the process for approvals for secondary suites in single-detached dwellings.
The 50 properties selected for the pilot were in the following categories:
·        30 of the properties were Land Use Districts (LUDs) where secondary suites are listed as a permitted use;
·         10 of the properties were listed as a discretionary use;
·         10 of the properties were not listed (not zoned) and were randomly selected from 311 service requests by citizens.
Safe Suites and Financial Disincentives
Following the initial evaluation by City staff, 46% (n=23) of property owners chose not to further participate in the pilot and decommissioned their suite. The report noted that the number is consistent with other cities who have reported results of decommissioning of suites.  Of the 23 decommissioned, 10 were found to have significant safety deficiencies and one with minor deficiencies.
The decommissioning of suites was attributed to the complexity of the processes, uncertainty of approvals, and potential costs associated with full compliance.  The City attempted to improve the customer experience and to reduce confusion; however, their offers to hold seminars or information sessions received little response. Furthermore, of the suite owners who chose to participate in the approval process, many responded slowly to deadlines set by City of Calgary Safety Codes Officer, with several requiring formal orders to encourage upgrades.
Financial Deterrent
The pilot found that a considerable disincentive to compliance was a combination of financial factors that represent a big expense to bring a secondary suite up to safety code.
The major deterrents include:
·         Cost to construct, renovate or upgrade to met safety requirements;
·         Cost of permits, approvals, and if required, land use re-designation;
·         Increased income taxes if rental income is reported to the Government of Canada
·         Perceived increased property taxes.
Furthermore, in this pilot project, tenants were subsidized to help pay for the costs of bringing their suite up to safety code. Despite receiving financial compensation, 46% of 50 tenants still chose to decommission their suite. If this study is any indicator of tenants’ reaction to the requirements for a safe suite, this suggests that blanket zoning will not solve the problem of unsafe suites. Simply put, despite zoning changes, tenants will still continue to rent out unsafe suites and choose to not meet safety standards to evade detection by the government and to avoid the expense of bringing their suite up to code.
The results from the study question whether blanket zoning will alleviate the city’s housing crisis and decrease the number of unsafe suites. Despite City funds and staff support to help tenants bring suites into compliance, almost half of the participants dropped out of the project due to financial costs of bringing a secondary suite[1] up to safety code.
The pilot findings suggest that tenants seeking to bring their suites up to code face several challenges. Approving or denying blanket zoning will not make secondary suites safer. Before council debates whether blanket zoning is an appropriate solution to a complex housing crisis in Calgary, The City and the Province need to fix three significantly flawed components of the secondary suite system. I contend that both levels of government need to address flaws with current enforcement through regulation, safety through building codes, and land use through zoning.  To read more about my thoughts on secondary suites and the 3 major issues I have with the current system, please read my article on  "City-Wide Secondary Suites - No Silver Bullet Solution".
Note: Councillor Sutherland is on the Task  Force Committee for Secondary Suite Regulatory Enforcement

[1] A secondary suite is a self-contained accessory living space consisting of a bedroom, bathroom and kitchen developed within or on the same property as a single family home.  Generally, a secondary suite must be 70 square metres of floor space or less. In R-C2 and R-2 districts, when the width of the property is 13 m or wider, a secondary suite may exceed 70 m2 in area. Secondary Suites: A guide to developing a secondary suite. Home Improvements. (2010). City of Calgary.

This content represents the personal views and opinions of the Councillor and should not be taken as a statement of policy of The City of Calgary. The inclusion of any external content does not imply endorsement by The City of Calgary.

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