Secondary suites now legal in more types of housing in Edmonton

Edmonton city council is paving the way for more homeowners to rent out secondary suites.

Council agreed to update a zoning bylaw to allow owners of semi-detached houses, duplexes and row houses to legally rent out self-contained suites.

Under the existing bylaw, only single detached homes were allowed to contain the secondary units.

Councillors, including Bev Esslinger, said the changes fill a need for homeowners looking for help to pay their mortgages and for people looking for more affordable rental options.

“We have a variety of people with different needs in our city and if this gives us more options to give them all a home, then why not.”

Coun. Ben Henderson supported changing the bylaw for more homeowners to rent out secondary suites. (CBC)

Coun. Ben Henderson said it would be difficult for owners of existing row housing to retrofit their units to meet the Alberta Fire Code and Alberta Building — there’s just not enough room.

“But you will see it perhaps in some of the new things that are purpose-built,” he said.

He wanted the bylaw changes to give new row housing developments a chance to meet the code and put in secondary suites.

“If we wait, then a whole bunch more will be built without that,” he said before council voted Monday. “And we’ll be sitting here three, four, five, six years from now recognizing the world will not end if we do this, the sky will not fall.”

Illegal suites

One reason while council decided to relax the rules is to allow duplex, row housing and semi-detached homeowners to get the proper licence if they are renting illegally.

Mayor Don Iveson encourages owners of duplexes, semi-detached and row housing now renting out secondary to come forward and get the proper licence.

“Come forward and make sure they’re legit,” Iveson said.

The city doesn’t know exactly how many suites are illegal but councillors think there are likely thousands that have been renting for a long time. 

Byron Kwasnitza with the Jasper Park community league said the approved row housing for 150th Street and 89th Avenue is not near family amenities. (CBC)

“[They] may never have had an inspection because they may never have had paperwork,” Iveson said. “We want to bring people into compliance there.”

Henderson believes he may have been among those guilty of renting an illegal suite, years before he became a councillor.

“I have no idea in retrospect if the secondary suite in the house was legal,” he told council. “I suspect it wasn’t.”

Henderson said the suite was there when he bought the place and he didn’t know the difference.

“It made it affordable for me and it made it affordable that I was able to share that house with.”

Anne Stevenson, a senior planner with the city’s bylaw team, said illegal suites likely make up less than 10 per cent of the city’s housing.

Edmonton currently has about 3,500 legal secondary suites, making up nearly two per cent of the housing.

Jasper Park row housing

Earlier on Mondqy, council approved a four-unit row-housing project at 150th Street and 89th Avenue in the Jasper Park neighbourhood.

The proposed housing is on a corner lot with no children’s amenities nearby, which doesn’t fall within current infill guidelines.

Byron Kwasnitza with the Jasper Park community league said the complex may add too much density for the existing amenities.

“You want privacy for both moving into row housing and the next-door neighbours,” Kwasnitza said. “You want to try to make the community attractive to families.” 

Andrew Knack agreed that development shouldn’t go forward. It’s on a corner lot that’s not across from a school or a park, required under current guidelines, he noted.  

“My concern is if we keep approving applications that go against those residential infill guidelines, I think it’s more important for us to have that broader policy discussion,” Knack said. 

Council approved a four-unit row house for this Jasper Park neighbourhood. (CBC)

Henderson raised a motion for council to revisit the guidelines, written 10-11 years ago.

“We’ve done an awful lot of the one-offs,” Coun. Ben Henderson said. “It’s certainly is pushing the boundaries of what was in the residential infill guidelines.”

“It doesn’t improve people’s faith in the system if we continue to do exception after exception after exception after exception.”

Council will discuss the city’s next phase of infill the fall.

@natashariebe



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