Secondary Suites (wait! this isn’t the same old)

To be honest, when council suggested we blanket rezone 4 wards to allow for secondary suites I hadn’t dug into the subject before, but as a community leader of a community that would be impacted I was hearing all about it. Today it still seems to be something we still struggle with.

Firstly, a comment on safety – it’s a common thread and something I believe we need to act on. Being a renter and being put in a situation of choosing to rent a place that might put your life at risk should not be an option, I don’t think anyone would question that.

But for the rest of the conversation, it seems like the issue and the mechanism aren’t about the same thing.

What we have is a situation where people can and will rent “illegal” suites, and the City is struggling with how to capture how many homes were doing so (partly to ensure a correct taxes are collected), secondly is the crusade to densify – with as many single family units we have in Calgary, suites make an easy mark.

The problem is the mechanism seems to be biased from a point of zoning and not the local community interaction; the illegal secondary suite situation works because it’s a social contract. Namely, if I rent my basement (or my house) to you, you then represent me to my neighbors – that understanding seems to prevail with suite rental, if I were realistic about trying to be successful, I would canvas my immediate neighbors and ask “hey, I want to rent out my basement – you O.K. with that?”. That makes the crux of the interaction between neighbors, if it’s not working my neighbor could contact me to try and remedy, or call bylaw – that sounds alot like a situation that could be made better with a license. Zoning as a solution doesn’t take into account the part of people interacting, that coupled with the landlord/tenant relationship is governed by a provincial body that considers building code, and holds the landlord accountable. Zoning is somewhat of a static interaction (change the zoning, taxes change – end of story), where licensing tends to be more of an ongoing interaction, which community is about.

So why not treat suites as an at home business? Blue sign goes out, immediate neighbors comment and I rent my basement (or not) and when I go to move that license ceases and should the next owner wish to rent out the basement – same process applies. As a bonus, the at home business license is always able to be scrutinized and has the support of bylaw for enforcement. And for the neighbor they have a say about what their immediate community is about.

Clearly there is a great deal to this conversation and by the looks of things we’re not going to find a solution everyone agrees with in the immediate future, but I’d like to see where this point of conversation could lead.