Councillors debate opening the door to more secondary suites in Edmonton

Edmonton's housing options may be expanding if councillors agree to relax the rules around who's allowed to rent secondary suites.

'What we’re trying to do is create choice for people,' Coun. Michael Walters says

Under the city's existing bylaw, only owners of single detached houses are allowed to rent out secondary suites. (CBC)

Renters may soon have more housing options if councillors agree to relax the rules around secondary suites.

The city's urban planning committee discussed Tuesday amending a zoning bylaw that would permit owners of semi-detached, duplex and row housing to rent out self-contained suites. 

Currently, only people owning single–​detached homes are allowed to have secondary suites.

Keith LaRoy has been living in a duplex near the Coliseum with his wife and kids for five years.

Built in the 1970s, the home has an existing suite in the basement, which they don't rent out because they're not legally entitled under the current bylaw. 
Keith LaRoy owns a duplex in the city's northeast and wants to be able to rent out the self-contained basement suite. (CBC)

"We would love to because it would make a huge help to our mortgage," LaRoy said.

He said other duplex owners in his neighbourhood aren't heeding the rules and are renting out suites. He urges the city to update zoning so more homeowners can rent secondary suites.

Edmonton has 3,500 legal secondary suites, making up 1.7 per cent of the city's housing.

About seven per cent of Edmonton's single–​detached homes have a legal secondary suite.

Number of illegal suites unknown

The Edmonton Federation of Community Leagues (EFCL) said there are problem landlords not playing by the rules.

"We continue to see secondary suites that don't meet building code," said Bev Zubot, a planning adviser with the EFCL.

City staff said it's unknown how many illegal suites actually exist in Edmonton. 

Coun. Scott McKeen wonders if opening up the market more would invite more problem landlords. 

"We [may] have these unintended consequences," he suggested. 

"I don't share that view," Walters countered. "I think we have illegal suites that need to be brought into compliance."

He suggested amending the bylaw will help more landlords follow the law, but "not everybody's going to follow the rules, not everybody always follows the rules."

"At any one time, we're going to continue to see those illegal suites," Peter Ohm, chief planner told the committee.

Mayor Don Iveson supports the amendments, saying the city has a responsibility to make it safe by bringing secondary suites into compliance.

'This isn't the silver bullet to growth pressures' 

The city started to allow secondary suites in 2009, with all single–​detached homes with a property larger than 360 square metres eligible for a secondary suite.

Coun. Michael Walters believes expanding that right is one way the city can encourage more families to move into core and mature communities. 

"What we're trying to do is create choice for people and trying to create affordability for people," he said Tuesday. 
Jon Dziadyk says many hookah lounges are cultural by nature and similar to coffee shops. (CBC)

Jon Dziadyk, councillor for Ward 3, supports the option for semi-detached homes and duplexes but he's wary of extending that to row housing.

"It's already a dense housing type," he said. "I just don't think row housing in general is built to accommodate this type of density."

Walters disagrees and said the uptake on secondary suites has been gradual since the city started relaxing the rules in 2007.

"I don't think we need to worry that it's going to overrun neighbourhoods by any means. There's no evidence of that whatsoever." 

A report prepared for the city's urban planning committee shows the neighbourhoods with the most secondary suites in relation to single-detached dwellings. (City of Edmonton)

A city report shows the mature and developing neighbourhoods of Oxford, Chappelle Area, Allendale, McKernan have the highest percentage of secondary suites compared to the number of single–​detached houses.

"This isn't the silver bullet to Edmonton's growth pressures. This is just one strategy among many to help make lots and housing in mature neighbourhoods a little more affordable," Walters said.

Council will hold a public hearing in August  to get input on the proposed bylaw amendments.

@natashariebe

About the Author

Natasha Riebe

Journalist

Natasha Riebe landed at CBC News in Edmonton after radio, TV and print journalism gigs in Halifax, Seoul, Yellowknife and on Vancouver Island. Please send tips in confidence to natasha.riebe@cbc.ca.

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