A University of Calgary grad student says there were nearly 14,000 secondary suites in the city in 2015, the vast majority of which were illegal. 

Kylee van der Poorten used census data and the legal registry to find the suites. Only two per cent — about 278 — of the units have permits from the city, data showed. 

Additionally, 70 per cent of those suites are in neighbourhoods where they would be permitted by current zoning regulations. 

"I understand the drive to start with these land use restrictions and there's a lot of social contention around the idea that we're using land use to exclude people from certain neighbourhoods," van der Poorten said.

"In terms of if something like that were to go to the courts, it's entirely illegal."

She said of the suites that are not allowed by current zoning, the majority are in areas with high concentrations of low income and immigrant residents.

Kylee van der Poorten

Kylee van der Poorten is a geography graduate student at the University of Calgary. (Kylee van der Poorten)

Safety concerns

She's concerned about the lack of oversight on illegal suites that is brought on by Calgary's current system. The land use restrictions do not make suites safer, she added.

Currently, those in areas zoned for secondary suites must apply for a permit and submit to an inspection, while those in areas without the proper zoning have to plead their case before city council. 

"In addition to addressing these land use issues, there needs to be a commitment to renter safety, and to rolling out some programs that seriously consider inspecting these suites, making sure they're safe for people without causing this market to go further underground," van der Poorten said.

She would like to see resources made available for those living in unsafe conditions and mechanisms for ensuring tenant safety, without driving the market further underground. 

With files from the Calgary Eyeopener