For the past eight years, Carolyn Goss has paid half her income to a series of mostly absentee homeowners in West Vancouver.
She has lived in four basement suites that have progressively got smaller, and been evicted twice. She’s had to improvise her living arrangements, and her daughters have been forced to sleep on the floor.
One of the most persistent zoning issues in West Vancouver is the illegal basement suite. The city allows secondary suites in single family homes, but they are not permitted in duplex zones and cannot exceed 40% of the overall property floor area.
A secondary suite is a self-contained living space that is within a detached dwelling unit and provides an additional income stream to the owner. In addition, they provide a diversity of rental housing options in single-family residential areas.
But for decades, secondary suites have been a source of controversy in Vancouver. A study from BC Hydro in the 1980s found that as many as tens of thousands of basement suites were operating in the city, many rented to students or immigrants.
In response, Council in 2002 passed a provision that allowed one legal suite per single-family residence. But it didn’t protect duplexes or a single suite in a multi-family dwelling, which are the most common secondary suites in Vancouver.
Today, however, some of these unauthorized units have become the subject of ongoing inspections, disputes and complaints. These problems range from small, seemingly unimportant violations to large, costly and disruptive evictions.
Recently, two cases of unauthorized duplexes have come before council, and in each case, the duplex owners have been ordered to shut down the unauthorized suites. In one case, a duplex on the 300-block of East 14th Street was ordered to close down two illegal suites because neighbours complained.
The owner complied, only to be told by staff that he was violating the zoning bylaw and needed to get his property rezoned. In another case, the owner of a fourplex in Ottawa Gardens had his application to have his building rezoned turned down by council.
While the number of illegal basement suites in Vancouver continues to rise, some of them are causing serious zoning and legal problems for their homeowners and their tenants. There are a few simple things that people can do to make sure they are not caught in the middle of this dilemma.
First, if you are considering building a basement suite in your home, do an online search for your municipality’s zoning bylaw to see what is allowed in your area. Most jurisdictions have an online search function for their zoning bylaws, and it’s easy to find them. Once you have a copy of your zoning bylaw, you can check the secondary suite section to see what is permitted for your property.
If you are thinking of buying a house in West Vancouver that has a basement suite, it is important to understand the legal issues associated with these properties. A lot of these problems can stem from how a property is zoned or whether it is considered to be a single family home.
Depending on your area, you may have to meet specific requirements such as having separate entrances and fire separations in order to make it legal for a secondary suite. These can be expensive to have installed, so you need to be aware of them ahead of time.
Aside from these basic considerations, there are also many other issues that can come up when trying to get a basement suite legalized. These include things such as the ratio of a suite to owner space, fire separations, door heights, laundry, and more.
These requirements are based on the Residential Tenancy Act and are designed to provide minimum levels of safety to occupants. However, if you are renting out a suite that is not legally approved, you could be in trouble.
In Surrey, a lot of owners who have illegal suites have been caught up in an enforcement process that has led to fines and penalties. This has caused some property owners to seek legal help to get the units licensed, according to City Manager Ramesh Rehal.
The process costs hundreds of dollars and requires that you do extensive renovations, so it is a good idea to save up extra cash. You may also need to have your rental property inspected and you will have to pay additional sewer and water fees as well as rental insurance, which can be very expensive.
For example, a couple who bought a house near Victoria Drive and 27th Avenue that had two basement suites and a laneway house was sent a notice by city staff that their second suite was illegal. The couple told Newshub they did not have the suite inspected before purchasing the property and did not know the law on secondary suites.
The couple decided to rent out the suite on Airbnb to help with some of their financial needs. They said they had a young daughter and wanted to be able to afford some of her medical bills. They rented it to a few people at the same time to get some income to help with the expenses.
There are several reasons why your basement suite or garden suite might not be legal. These can include zoning bylaws, BC building codes, and building permits that were not obtained.
In addition, your suite may not be compliant with fire safety and electrical standards. Fortunately, there are ways to bring your suite up to a safe and legal standard.
A good place to start is by getting a licensed contractor to review the suite and the house. They will be able to spot any issues that may arise and will help guide you through the process of legalizing your suite.
Many homeowners find that it is easier to make their suites legal before putting them on the market, which can help them get more for their home. They will also avoid costly fines.
If you have an unauthorized basement suite in your property, the City will be notified and can send an inspector to inspect it. If the inspector finds that your suite is not in compliance, they will issue a warning or fine to the homeowner.
Another option is to apply for a permit to convert your illegal basement suite into a legal one. The City will review your suite and let you know if it is in compliance with all zoning and building codes and will issue a permit.
The inspector will also give you advice on how to fix any of the problems that he found and will provide you with a checklist so you can complete the work to bring your suite into compliance.
It can be a frustrating and time-consuming process to bring your illegal suite up to a legal standard. It can take years to complete the project and you will need to hire a team of professionals that can help you along the way.
While a secondary suite can be a great way to add rental income to your home, it is important to ensure that it meets all zoning bylaws and BC building codes. Having your suite legalized will help to reduce the likelihood of costly fines and penalties, as well as ensure the safety of your tenants and their families.
One of the most frustrating things to deal with if you own a home in West Vancouver is when the City comes to inspect your illegal basement suite. The City will send out a building inspector, who will inspect your suite and if they find any issues, they will deem it illegal and the suite will be ordered to be demolished or re-converted back into a single family dwelling.
The problem with this is that it can be very costly to re-convert your house into a single family residence because of the additional fees you will have to pay in addition to the taxes and utilities. In some cases, the suite may require a significant amount of work to make it legal, and in other cases the suite will just need to be demolished.
There is a lot of red tape with this issue, and it can be difficult to get it all straightened out in a timely manner. This is why it is important to be aware of the different permits that can help you with this issue and to understand what you need to do to make your suite legal and safe.
In 2010, the City of West Vancouver launched a Secondary Suite program to legalize existing secondary suites within owner-occupied homes. This program was designed to help homeowners complete all of the requirements for legalization in a way that was affordable and sustainable for them.
Once a suite is legalized, it can be rented out to tenants or used for other purposes such as a rental unit or office space. The City will also provide rental insurance to ensure you have adequate coverage if any accidents or damages occur in the suite.
Often, homeowners are surprised to find out that a secondary suite in their home is not legal when they go to rent it out. This can be because they didn’t have all of the proper permits in place or that the suite doesn’t adhere to zoning bylaws or BC building codes.
The City of West Vancouver does have a program in place to help homeowners legalize their suites, but there are some issues that can arise. These issues can include things such as ceiling heights, fire separations, separate entrances, heating controls and systems, minimum and maximum size for units and more. If you want to learn more about how to legally legalize your suite, read this article to find out what you need to do!
Among many other things, David A. Grantham is a contributing author to UmassExtension West Vancouver Blo. He is a renowned expert on real estate in BC.
Born in North Vancouver, Louisiana, Dr. Grantham grew up in Lower Lonsdale. He then went on to complete his business degree at the University British Columbia. As of this writing, Grantham has completed over 100 projects, including the development of a high rise building in Vancouver.
He is a husband, father, son, brother, and friend. He was a dedicated outdoorsman and enjoyed sports such as hunting, fishing, scuba diving, and snow skiing. His wife, Alison Grantham, and their two daughters survived him. He is survived by his wife Alison Martin Grantham and two daughters.