Calgary city council ditches 'ridiculous system' with passage of secondary suite reform

A proposal before Calgary city council to change the way secondary suite applications are dealt with passed late Monday night at the tail end of an extended meeting.

Mayor Naheed Nenshi says councils' 9-6 vote in favour of new system 'a really big deal'

Calgary Mayor Naheed Nenshi says the new system for approving secondary suites will promote safety and fairness for tenants. (CBC)

A proposal before Calgary city council to change the way secondary suite applications are dealt with passed late Monday night at the tail end of an extended meeting.

The bylaw amendment makes secondary suites a discretionary use across much of the city and stops the hearing of applications on the floor of city council — a process that takes up roughly 20 per cent of council's time.

Instead, secondary suite applications will be processed and approved by public servants in the planning department.

Mayor Naheed Nenshi said he's "super happy" the reforms were approved.

"It's a really big deal. It has finally allowed us to address a really lingering problem," he said.

"Calgary was the only major city in Canada that continued this ridiculous system of forcing people to come to city council meetings and beg for the right to do something with their own property — to put a stove in their basement."

The bylaw amendment passed 9-6, with councillors Sean Chu, Jeromy Farkas, Ward Sutherland, Peter Demong, Ray Jones and Joe Magliocca voting against.

The changes affect 170,000 properties in the city.

Earlier in the day, Coun. Druh Farrell, who supports secondary suites, said making the process the responsibility of the planning department is a small step.

"Even if we do take it out of council's hands and put it into a discretionary use that's vetted by the planning department, it'd still be one of the most onerous procedures in Canada for suites," she said.

Mandatory registry

Under the changes approved by the city on Monday, all suites, both new and existing, will have to be entered into a mandatory registry. Owners will have to pay a one-time fee of $232. (CBC)

Under the new bylaw, all suites, both new and existing, will be entered into a mandatory city-run registry.

Owners will have to pay a one-time registry fee of $232.

Nenshi said encouraging the owners of the thousands of illegal secondary suites to register them with the city will be a long-term project.

Under the changes, the city will declare a two-year amnesty and encourage illegal suite owners to ensure their units comply with safety codes. 

The city estimates 1,600 suites could be added to the registry during the two years.

Nenshi said there may be 30,000 illegal suites in the city.

"We're never going to get all of them, but as I say, every one that's on that registry means another choice for someone and the experience in every other city has been that really drives out the slumlord," he said.

"It drives out the really bad ones and you just continue to whittle away at that."


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