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Ward 7 News: Secondary Suite Reform Frequently Asked Questions

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Ward 7 official website


On 12 March 2018, City Council will debate secondary suite reform. The proposal is to allow secondary suites as discretionary uses in all residential land uses (zonings) that do not currently allow secondary suites. Here are answers to the most frequently asked questions about secondary suite reform:

What is a secondary suite?

Suites are self-contained dwelling units within principal residences or in backyards. They have separate living, cooking, sleeping, and bathroom facilities. They are often referred to as basement suites or in-law suites.

Secondary suites provide a market-driven approach to improving housing options and housing affordability. Residents often apply for suites to provide extended family housing, caregiver accommodation, aging-in-place opportunities for seniors, accommodation for new Canadians, mortgage helpers for young families, and affordable rental.

What properties are affected?

If your property is designated (zoned) R-1, R-C1, or R-C1L, secondary suites are currently forbidden. The proposal is for properties with these land uses to allow secondary suites. See if your property is affected here:

My property already allows secondary suites. Am I affected?

No. The proposed changes do not affect any land uses other than R-1, R-C1, and R-C1L.

Why is reform needed?

Currently, residents wishing to add a secondary suite in areas where they are not allowed must apply for a Land Use Redesignation (rezoning). This is done ad hoc for each property. Residents must come individually to Council to request a change. Residents are often pitted against each other and compelled to share personal stories having no relevance to the planning process. This approach wastes large portions of Council time and comes at a significant financial cost to Calgarians. Recent research indicates that Council frequently makes arbitrary decisions on secondary suites and often without consideration to sound planning principles.

The current onerous, inconsistent, and adversarial process creates an impediment to make secondary suites safe and legal. As a result, approximately 16,000 illegal suites exist across Calgary. Removing the land use barrier will make it easier for these suites to be brought into compliance with current building standards.

What will the changes mean for my community?

The vast majority of Ward 7 communities already allow for secondary suites across all residential areas, so there will be no changes for most residents.

Allowing secondary suites in all communities will move the process out of Council’s hands, reduce costs, create more consistent outcomes for all residents, and encourage the legalization of existing illegal suites. Secondary suites will still be reviewed for technical rules, community integration, and various planning principles. They will also be subject to appeal by neighbours or community associations.

What are other cities doing?

Calgary is the last major city in Canada to not allow secondary suites city-wide. Many small cities also allow secondary suites in all residential areas.

Will both basement and backyard suites be allowed?

Yes, both basement and backyard suites will be discretionary uses in R-1, R-C1, and R-C1L.

What is the difference between permitted and discretionary uses?

Alberta cities are allowed to have permitted and discretionary uses. If a use is permitted, it is automatically approved if it meets all of the relevant rules. If a use is discretionary, it can be approved with reasonable relaxations or refused even if there are no relaxations. Permitted uses are not appealable unless appellants can demonstrate an error in reviewing an application against the rules. Discretionary uses can be appealed if the appellants believe unreasonable relaxations were granted, policy was not followed, or sound planning principles were not considered.

“Discretionary” does not mean that applications will be approved subjectively. Applications must be reviewed against the rules of Calgary’s Land Use Bylaw, various policies/guidelines, and sound planning principles. “Discretionary” means that applications can be approved, modified, or refused following technical review and community comment.
Requiring both types of secondary suites to be discretionary uses in R-1, R-C1, and R-C1L places a higher level of scrutiny on suites than elsewhere in the city. Everywhere else, basement suites are permitted uses and backyard suites are discretionary.

What will happen to the Secondary Suite Registry?

The Registry will become mandatory for all new and existing secondary suite applications. This ensures residents will know that secondary suites are legal and safe. You can visit the registry here:

How will property values be affected?

There are no data to show a decrease in property value due to secondary suites. According to the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation (CMHC), building a secondary suite increases the value of an individual home because of the potential rental income. The change in value of adding a secondary suite is often compared to going from an unfinished basement to a finished basement. Assessed property value is determined by comparing your home to those like it, so if your property does not have a secondary suite, it will not be compared to homes with suites to determine its assessed value, and vice versa.

Will this allow for duplex-type development?

No. Secondary suites are separate dwelling units either contained within a home or in a backyard/above garage structure. Duplex and semi-detached buildings will not be possible through these changes.

Can I build both a basement suite and a backyard suite?

No. The proposed changes do not allow for this. Residents can have either a basement suite or a backyard suite, not both.

What about parking?

Parking is regulated by Calgary’s Land Use Bylaw. Both principal residences and secondary suites are required to provide on-site parking.

What about property maintenance?

Property maintenance is a challenge for all types of properties, whether they are owner-occupied, conventional rental, or secondary suites. Problem properties are best addressed through the Community Standards Bylaw and cannot be addressed through land use. If you see a poorly maintained property, please call 311.

What about community character?

R-1, R-C1, and R-C1L dictate what types of buildings are allowed. Communities with these land uses will continue to have single detached houses as their primary building types. The vast majority of secondary suites in Calgary are basement suites, which have no change to the physical characteristics of housing in a community. Backyard suites, while rare, can create physical changes. As such, they are subject to a higher degree of scrutiny through the review process. City Administration may require changes or refuse an application if it is not a good physical fit for the area. Residents can also appeal any secondary suite application in these new areas if they feel the decision by City Administration is inappropriate.

What if I have concerns with some backyard suite designs?

The vast majority of suites will not be backyard suites, but there are, indeed, some issues with current backyard suite design standards.

Currently, guidelines around backyard suites do not help build support for this emerging housing form. Some designs are high-quality and well-integrated into the surrounding communities. Others are less so. Because of these inconsistent results, City Administration is currently working on backyard suite design guidelines. Administration will return to Council later this year with a plan to ensure consistent design quality and better community fit.

Where can I learn more or provide further feedback?



This content represents the personal views and opinions of the Ward 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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