Secondary suites (accessory apartments) are a flexible housing form that has become increasingly common in Canadian urban areas.
These self-contained units are a popular accommodation choice for mortgaged homeowners, lower income households and seniors. However, they often fail to conform to zoning, building and health regulations.
Secondary suites are an important housing option that the City of Vancouver has encouraged for a long time. They provide additional rental income and diversity to the housing stock in single-family neighbourhoods.
The West Vancouver Secondary Suite Requirements are a set of regulations that govern how large secondary suites may be. These requirements are designed to help ensure that these units are safe, family-friendly and liveable.
One of the largest challenges facing homeowners and developers is how to incorporate secondary suites into a new or existing property without negatively impacting the character of the community. The West Vancouver Neighbourhood Character Working Group has a number of proposals to address this issue and they are looking for feedback on the draft recommendations.
Increasing the size of secondary suites is an important step in providing more rental housing options. In addition, it will also help ease the approval process for constructing a new or additional home.
A secondary suite is defined as a separate residential unit accessory to a single-family or two-family dwelling that contains at least two bedrooms and a living room. These suites must have their own entrance, and they must be separated from the main residential dwelling.
In addition to providing additional rental housing opportunities, secondary suites can help reduce home ownership costs in some cases. According to the City of Vancouver, about 40 percent of owner-occupied homes in the District include a secondary suite.
Many of these suites are in homes that have not received a City of Vancouver license to allow them to be rented out. In some cases, this is because the building owners did not know that they needed to obtain a business licence, and in other cases it was due to their lack of knowledge or ignorance about the building code.
Under the current zoning rules, the maximum number of homes that can be built in an RS zone is four. If a duplex was allowed to be built with a secondary suite, this would increase the maximum density by an additional three homes per lot. However, this is a theoretical increase that does not translate to real growth.
The West Vancouver Secondary Suite Requirements are a set of regulations that govern the construction and occupancy of secondary suites within single-family homes. Typically referred to as basement suites, nanny suites, mortgage helpers or in-law suites, they are self-contained units with a kitchen and living space that can be rented out.
Generally, these units are viewed as an accommodation that can benefit homeowners by providing extra rental income and increasing the variety of housing options in single-family neighbourhoods. However, they can also be a source of concern. For example, some homeowners might decide to rent out their suite for more than the market rate because they are worried about the quality of their tenants.
As a result, many communities have taken the approach of making it easier to legalize secondary suites and transition them into the formal housing market. This includes changing the rules on the zoning bylaw, allowing coach houses and easing up on the permitting process for them.
While these policies are important, they don’t go far enough to address the most pressing issues with secondary suites. For instance, they don’t provide any regulatory tools to evict suites from homeowners that don’t comply with them.
This lack of enforcement can lead to a mismatch between the number of secondary suites and the number of available housing units in Vancouver. This can create a housing crisis, as well as a mismatch between the prices of primary dwellings and secondary suites.
To help deal with this, the City of Vancouver has a licensing program that allows owners to apply for a business licence. This is necessary to abide by all the relevant building codes and fire safety standards.
Despite this, the majority of secondary suites still remain un-licensed and informal in nature. For this reason, they can be a source of tensions between residents and the City.
This issue is also a key part of the City’s ongoing discussion on how to make it easier for homeowners to have basement suites in their home. For example, a recent motion by Councillor Adriane Carr called on staff to work with the Neighborhood Coach House Working Group to determine what steps are required to implement the NCWG’s recommendations.
Secondary suites have long been seen as a nuisance and discouraged by civic governments and neighbourhoods across Canada. But as they have become more popular, some smart people are starting to push for changes to help them work better in the real world.
One idea, advanced by North Shore realtor Dave Watt, is to let homeowners build their suites partially above-grade, a concept that could allow laneway houses to be built, even in single-family zones, without fear of zoning changes or strata council approval. It could suit a variety of housing needs, from multi-generational families to people who are downsizing.
It also would allow people who are not living in their home to rent out part of it, generating money that would go towards the mortgage. And it might help people who can’t afford to buy a house but still need housing, by providing low-cost homes for them to live in while they save for their own home.
But it may not be easy to get a secondary suite approved, especially when city rules aren’t clear. It’s a point raised by both Watt and Vancouver developer Michael Geller, who is trying to get the city to green light his own new housing project in West Vancouver.
Then there’s the problem of obtaining insurance for a suite that isn’t owned by the homeowner, especially if it’s in a basement, where insurers might hesitate to cover such an accommodation, because they might worry about how it will impact the value of the property. A recent study by a company that insures people’s homes found that only five per cent of its policy holders in the Prairies rent out a portion of their home to non-family members.
It’s also a point that has been debated in Vancouver, where, in 2017, Councillor Adriane Carr introduced a motion that sought to grandfather existing legal non-conforming suites under the City’s secondary suite bylaws. The motion was voted down and, instead, staff was asked to look into options for incentives to encourage builders of secondary suites in a few single-family neighbourhoods as part of the City’s ongoing Housing Re:set study. The results of the analysis should be ready next month, when DNV starts public engagement on different housing options for single-family neighbourhoods.
Homeowners who have been considering building a secondary suite should know that they will need to meet some pretty high standards in order to achieve this feat. These include the construction of a stairwell and a garage, installing a new furnace and water heater, upgrading electrical systems, adding insulation, and making other improvements to improve comfort, safety and security.
As a result, you should consider hiring an architect and/or interior designer to complete the task for you. These professionals can help you design and build the best suite for your needs, ensuring it will be well maintained and ready to rent when the time comes.
The cost to construct a fully functional secondary suite can range from $75,000 for a simple two bedroom unit to $150,00 for a high end four bedroom model, depending on the finishes you choose. You’ll also need to make sure you pay for all the permits and upgrades that are necessary, and you should plan on spending about $300,000 to $1 million on your project.
While you’re at it, you should consider getting a secondary suite insurance policy to ensure that your property will be properly insured should something happen. You can find these policies on the internet, or ask your local insurance agent for more information. While the most expensive option may be the one with the highest premium, a good policy is still a great investment and it’s worth considering if you’re planning on renting your suite out in the future. The best part is that most insurance providers will cover any minor repairs or alterations you make to the suite, so you won’t need to spend more than a few dollars on a deductible.
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.