British Columbia

Vancouver's new duplex rules explained

Answers to all your questions about the changes allowing duplexes to be built on almost all of the city's single-family lots.

What's changed now that duplexes are allowed on single-family lots? And will it make the city more affordable?

Rows of single-family homes in East Vancouver, with downtown Vancouver in the top right of the image.
Vancouver city council voted in favour of allowing duplexes on 99 per cent of the single-family zoned properties in the city. (Gian-Paolo Mendoza/CBC)

On Thursday, Vancouver city council voted 7 to 4 in favour of allowing a vast rezoning of the city's low-density, single-family (RS) neighbourhoods to allow duplexes.

Here's what you need to know about the changes.

What's new?

Duplexes are now permitted on 99 per cent of Vancouver's single-family zoned properties.

What does it mean?

Essentially, it means it is now legal to build as many as four housing units on an RS lot, instead of the maximum of three previously allowed.

How does that work?

Under the old system, a single-family zoned lot was allowed to contain a primary residence, a secondary suite and a laneway house. With the bylaw amendments, each duplex unit can have its own secondary suite.

The city says the duplex bylaw amendments affect 99 per cent of the 68,000 single-family properties in the city. (David Horemans/CBC)

Can you build a duplex with a laneway house?

No. This is the current rule, and it hasn't changed.

If you build a duplex, can you sell half of it?

Yes. According to Vancouver's chief planner, Gil Kelly, this is one of the key benefits of the new duplex option.

"One advantage here is that it allows two ownership homes on one parcel," he said. "It doesn't take away from the option to do a laneway instead, but it does allow one more "affordable" — if you want to call it that — option that isn't there now.

The new regulations do not allow for the building of a laneway house and a duplex on the same property. (Denis Dossmann/CBC)

How will this impact the affordability crisis in Vancouver?

It won't impact it much, and the city acknowledges that. With Vancouver duplexes ranging in price from about $1 million to $2 million, Kelly says the duplex change wasn't made to address the "hardcore affordability problem."

"This was really meant to address options for owners, although with the ability to do [secondary] suites which typically are rented out, we could see a bump in the rental supply as well."

How will this impact housing stock in Vancouver?

Not by a significant amount. 

According to a planning report by city staff, about 800 houses are demolished and replaced with a new house or house with secondary suite annually. The report states, "if patterns continue and half of the homeowners who are planning to replace a house in the coming year chose to rebuild using the new duplex option, we could see about 400 duplexes built over the course of a year."

How many properties are we talking about?

The city says the new duplex zoning affects 99 per cent of all the single-family lots in the city or about 67,300 of a total of 68,000 lots. 

Why are some properties exempt from the change?

According to the city report, the area roughly between West 37th and West 49th avenues and Granville and Cypress streets is "generally comprised of large, irregular lots with a significant stock of character homes..." 

The report says the area requires more extensive and complex bylaw amendments which require more time and would have delayed bringing in duplexes on the other 99 per cent of the single-family properties in the city.

Those amendments are expected to be introduced at a later date.