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May 25, 2009, 7:52 AM
Basement Suite Closures Raise Ire
City Moving Wrong Way On Housing Policy Critics Argue

May 24, 2009
Calgary Herald
Jason Markusoff

When the city inspector came to check the basement suite at 239 Erin Meadow Close S. E., she didn't check for leaky ceilings, unsafe windows or faulty wiring.

But she did find something that warranted shutting it down. She found kitchen cabinets, a countertop and a sink -- the telltale markings of a dwelling unit. And with no development permit granted for owner Deanna Oxtoby, that made it an illegal secondary suite.

The lack of safety concerns made no difference, nor did the roughly $30,000 of renovations Oxtoby said she did to upgrade the property. Rules were rules. Oxtoby had until last Dec. 1 to close it down.

"The inspector that came to look at it was like, 'Oh, my god, it's gorgeous. I can't believe I have to make you rip this out,' " Oxtoby recalled.

It's been said in studies and news reports that city hall turns a blind eye to the unchecked thousands of illegal secondary suites in Calgary. That's not quite true.

Inspectors go in when a neighbour complains about a suite, and if they find a secondary dwelling and no city permit, the owner is found in violation of the land-use bylaw and must remove the kitchen.

The city has shut down 2,104 "illegal" secondary suites because of bylaw non-compliance -- not safety codes of any sort -- since 2004, its own statistics show.

That amounts to at least one closed suite a day, every day, for the past five years. Those figures raise concern among housing advocates, landlords and experts that Calgary is being counterproductive in its efforts to improve housing affordability.

The numbers also struck an alderman who is a strong supporter of the city's 10-year strategy to end homelessness, which recommends the city actually create 2,000 "legal" suites in a decade.

"We're going in the opposite direction," said Ald. Joe Ceci. He knew the city had a policy of closing the suites after complaints.

"I'm surprised at the total number. I'm surprised there's that many people complaining. I thought it was getting better, that there was more of an acceptance of well-run secondary units throughout Calgary."

Ceci said he can't blame city staff for enforcing the bylaw, but officials could be more lenient to let homeowners make their illegal suites legal.

The city development and approvals branch has worked with Calgarians to make their suites comply with the land-use bylaw if possible, said Judy Lupton, manager of planning implementation.

"We know it's a form of accommodation and we certainly try to do what we can," she said. "They have to comply with the land-use bylaw. Those requirements and rules are put in there for a reason, and we have to enforce them."

Without knowing there's a secondary unit in a house, the city can't assess it properly for tax purposes. There are also liability issues and tenants' rights are in question in suites that legally don't exist.

City hall has widely touted its new rules that allow permits for secondary suites. But strict rules around zoning, lot width, parking space and maximum suite size have proven so restrictive that only four legal suites were created from the policy's introduction last June to the end of March, and only 18 Calgarians had applied.

Oxtoby applied to have her Erin Woods rental house classed as a duplex, but was told the lot's size disqualifies it.

She also cannot apply for the newly introduced grant program that offers homeowners up to $25,000 to build suites, since she doesn't live in that home.

"They're saying they're working to create more affordable housing," Oxtoby said. "What they're telling the public and what's happening are two completely different things."

The number of city-directed suite shutdowns had recent peaks in 2006 and 2007, just as rents were soaring and vacancies drying up during the now-bygone economic boom. Those years saw 465 and 450 suites closed, respectively.

They're most commonly closed in east Calgary's Ward 10. Ald. Andre Chabot said that's because there might be 10 times as many secondary suites in his area than others.

"When you have a multitude of the illegal secondary suites in one block, it takes away the use and enjoyment of others on the street," he said.

He's heard of duplexes illegally converted to eight-plexes, or people renting out units in basements and garages at the same time, often in horrible condition.

"If they were doing it right, they wouldn't have neighbours' complaints," Chabot said.

The city got a flood of calls from tenants and landlords about secondary-suite safety after January, when a fire killed three people in a Parkdale suite that lacked appropriate windows or smoke alarms.

In some cases, development inspectors got sent in instead of fire or safety inspectors, leading to a sudden spike in shutdown directions earlier this year, said John Purdy, the city's chief development control planner.

"There is a bit of a conundrum there with regard to who's representing the corporation, who's providing tacit approval for the use, to what lengths does an owner improve his property to meet the fire-exiting requirements before being advised that the legality of the suite is in question," Purdy acknowledged.

"Those are issues that were raised as a result specifically of the Parkdale fire."

Fire and health inspectors will order suites closed as well, but only in extreme situations that make a dwelling unsafe.

In the past 12 months, public health officials have ordered six unsanitary Calgary basement suites closed -- including, after the fire, that Parkdale suite, according to the Alberta Health Services website.

Secondary suites are widely regarded as among the most affordable sorts of housing.

The couple who moved into the basement of Fatima Valayati's Forest Lawn house were so poor they brought a mattress from the alley, and paid rent in tiny, occasional instalments.

"They'd been living on the edge since they moved in," Valayati said.

They had to move out by May 1, after the suite triggered a complaint, then a closure order.

Faced with a hefty bill to install a proper entrance to make the suite legal -- and also ineligible for city grants -- the upstairs tenants' rent doesn't pay enough to make up her mortgage and property taxes for the house.

"They don't care whether I'm losing my property or not," Valayati said.

The closure rate is not only unfair to low-income Calgarians, but wrong-headed for a city whose planners talk much about boosting density in existing neighbourhoods, said Dermot Baldwin of the Drop-In Centre homeless shelter.

"It's strictly about rules, without any consideration for reality in terms of quality of life for people who have to suff er the fact there was not adequate housing," he said.

Vancouver and Ontario cities have greatly relaxed rules to maximize the supply of basement or garage suites, said David Hulchanski, an urban studies professor at the University of Toronto.

He's heard of cities enforcing bylaws and closing suites, but not as many as Calgary has.

"That's quite astonishing, because you have to wonder where those people go, what happens to the homeowners who lose the income," Hulchanski said.

To Hillhurst resident Larry Martin, however, a proliferation of suites threatens to lower property values and make a neighbourhood unpleasant. He's railing against the Hillhurst-Sunnyside Community Association's bid for exemptions to make legalizing suites easier there.

"I think they should enforce (the bylaw)," Martin said.

"There's the safety issue, but then there's the issue of quiet enjoyment of your property. And if someone is sliding someone in next door and it's taking up parking space like that, that's not right. That's invasive."

Shutting suites down for safety is reasonable, but there should be amnesty from the bylaw for landlords who aren't violating building or safety codes, said Robert Roach of the Canada West Foundation, a think-tank that has long advocated for more secondary suites as a housing solution.

"The more people who can rent a room in someone's house and if it's safe and practical, why not?" Roach said.

"Will it annoy some of the neighbours? Possibly, but I think that's a fair trade-off ."

As for that Erin Woods home, its basement suite is now occupied, Oxtoby said. Because of a loophole, there's nothing illegal about renting out an extra space that has no kitchen.

"The safety hazard goes way up now, because people are plugging who knows what into the bathroom, they're washing plates in the sink, so the sanitary concerns are there," Oxtoby said.

"The hazards are way worse. And the city knows, because they came and inspected."

© Copyright (c) The Calgary Herald (http://www.calgaryherald.com/news/Basement+suite+closures+raise/1625518/story.html)


When I worked for Rocky View I completed some research on other counties that were drafting, or had already adopted, policies on Accessory Dwelling Units (ADUs). Forget lagging behind Toronto and Vancouver, it is quite embarrassing that we have fallen behind some of the Municipal Districts in the Province. Can you believe that pretty soon it will probably be easier to build ADUs on acreages than in the suburbs in the Greater Calgary Area? ADUs are one of those stupidly simple solutions.

May 25, 2009, 8:37 AM
Suite And Sour
Neighbours Pitted Against Each Other Over Secondary Suites

December 4, 2008
Adrienne Beattie

Calgary, like other major cities, is facing economic, environmental and social problems brought on by a surge in population. So far, our city has responded by growing outwards while others have been growing upwards and inwards. As we move towards increased population density, politicians, neighbours and city administration are faced with a new challenge — reconciling the strains of crowding and conflict.

In 1973, Dixie Watson’s first home on a quiet bay in the community of Southwood was just being built. She purchased it four years later at age 21, and that is where she and her husband would raise their two children. “When we bought here, there was a sense of safety,” Watson recalls. “It was all families at that time, and we knew every person on the bay.”

The Arab Oil Embargo of that year propelled worldwide oil prices up and thrust Calgary, with a population of just less than 425,000, into an economic boom that drastically altered the city’s landscape. The communities of Greenwood, Huntington Hills and Whitehorn formed the northern boundaries of the municipality, while Penbrooke Meadows, Millican-Ogden, Canyon Meadows and Glenbrook shaped Calgary’s southwest limits. Construction of Spruce Meadows was just beginning and once completed two years later, would be considered a day trip for local equestrian enthusiasts.

By the summer of 1981, the south line of the C-Train opened, running from Anderson Station, a stone’s throw from Watson’s backyard, to the Eighth Street S.W. Station downtown. After three decades of rapid urban development and population growth, Watson now finds herself in a more crowded, conflicted community than the one she bought into.

Growing Pains

Watson’s community began to deteriorate in the years after she bought her house. Many properties close to Anderson Station became unkempt with weed-ridden yards, littered alleyways, neglected cars and abandoned shopping carts. Many had absentee landlords and transient renters. Watson has witnessed the SWAT team shut down the adjacent bay to arrest drug dealers and car thieves. She believes the increased density of surrounding streets has caused the changes she’s seen.

Watson says her bay has retained some level of safety, however, because the houses are single-family dwellings, whereas surrounding streets are a mix of duplexes, single-family dwellings and condominiums. She believes duplexes and suited houses, by nature, attract investors who rent the properties out. She thinks single-family dwellings are more likely to be owner-occupied. This is one of the factors that attracted the Watsons to this particular bay. She believes this is what keeps property values higher and draws families and longer-term residents. However, this, too, is threatened.

Calgary is now home to over one million residents. The boundaries of the city are bulging with cookie-cutter communities engulfing Canada Olympic Park and Spruce Meadows, hastily assembled houses are pushing past Highway 22X and hugging the airport, and backyards are bordering the sites and smells of the city’s three landfills. The land area Calgary occupies exceeds many other North American cities with higher populations, including New York City and Toronto, no doubt contributing to Calgary’s status as having the highest energy footprint in the country and being one of three cities with the largest overall ecological footprint in Canada, according to a report published by the Federation of Canadian Municipalities.

Calgary has suffered a steady decline in rental units — a trend that started in 1994 — while the population has continued to increase. The rental vacancy rate currently hovers around two or three per cent, and a two-bedroom apartment will set you back an average of $1,037 a month. The housing market, although it’s starting to cool off, is tough to get into with a single family home costing an average $463,000. Homelessness is growing at an alarming pace with recent counts indicating more than 4,000 men, women and children are without shelter.

In Search of a Place to Call Home

People are starting to get creative in order to secure suitable housing — people like Chandy Megaw. Tired of rental increases and frustrated with paying down someone else’s mortgage, Megaw lined up a co-signor and started her search for a house. Knowing she couldn’t manage hefty mortgage payments alone, Megaw sought out a house that could accommodate her and renters. The Canadian Mortgage and Housing Corporation (CMHC) reports secondary suites can reduce carrying costs to first-time homebuyers by up to 25 per cent.

A 33-year-old human resources professional, Megaw says, “I really wanted to own something of my own that I could make exactly the way I wanted. I’m very handy, so I knew I could do a lot of the work myself.”

The search for a suited house was challenging. Strict regulations in Calgary make legally suited houses hard to come by. In order to be legal, a secondary suite (defined as a self-contained living space consisting of a bedroom, bathroom and kitchen located within or on the same property as a single family home — most commonly in the form of a basement suite) must be located in the correct land-use designation, must have a separate entrance, must have a designated parking spot in addition to those required of the principal dwelling, must have a minimum ceiling height of 1.95 metres (6.4 feet), fire-protected walls, a separate furnace and ventilation system, must meet specific lot and interior space requirements, among other conditions, and the owner must secure of number of costly building, land-use and development permits.

Megaw found the requirements too expensive and. “I would have preferred to buy a legally suited house, but it was near impossible to find one because so many people don’t make them legal. Most of the suited houses I looked at needed a lot of work, so I tried to find one that wouldn’t cost me too much.”

When Megaw came across a listing for a Southwood house advertised as “suite-ready” (the owner had roughed in a kitchen in the basement) in her price range, she jumped on it. Megaw purchased it and took possession in April of this year. By the end of the month, Megaw had moved into the basement, started work on completing the kitchen and secured tenants for the upstairs.

She had also been reported for her illegal suite by Dixie Watson, her neighbour. A notice arrived from the City of Calgary Development and Building Approvals department notifying her that a complaint had been filed indicating she had more than the allowable number of dwelling units on her property. A development inspector came and took photos of every room in her house. The inspector was looking for evidence indicating another dwelling unit — specifically, upper and lower cabinets and/or cupboards, sink and plumbing, faucets, countertop, cooking facilities including but not limited to a stove, microwave, toaster oven, hot plate and 220 electrical wiring — any of which are prohibited by city bylaw. He found most of these things.

Megaw had become responsible for a mortgage, renovations and three renters within a short time. After getting the inspection notice in the mail, Megaw says, “I was scared, panicked and overwhelmed. I didn’t know where to look or what to do. I didn’t realize how involved it all was.”

Megaw is one of more than 1,000 Calgarians that are reported each year for having an illegal secondary suite. Her home is one of an estimated more than 50,000 illegally suited houses in Calgary.

Other Cities More Accommodating than Calgary

Other cities aren’t closing the door on secondary suites. The City of North Vancouver took the lead in 1997, amending its zoning bylaw to permit secondary suites in the city’s single-family residential areas. It did this because, in the late 1980s, housing prices skyrocketed, making it difficult for prospective homeowners to buy and making it equally challenging for tenants to find affordable housing. With a shift in the market, the city’s leadership responded.

Toronto followed suit in 1999, Vancouver in 2004 and cities like Saskatoon and Edmonton are likewise amending their bylaws and offering incentives to homeowners who are willing to create suites in their homes.

Secondary suites make up close to a fifth of the rental stock in many major cities. The CMHC has found the rent for secondary suites is, on average, lower than that for apartments, and that secondary suites provide relatively affordable housing in a neighbourhood setting without major government assistance.

Ald. Brian Pincott agrees. “Our city is in the midst of an affordable housing crisis with 60,000 residents one paycheque away from homelessness. Secondary suites are the low-hanging fruit on the tree for getting affordability back in the market.”

The confusing jumble of restrictions governing secondary suites in Calgary doesn’t bog down homeowners in other cities. Cities like Vancouver have relaxed various building codes to facilitate secondary suites while still addressing occupant safety through simple building requirements such as the installation of interconnected hard-wired smoke alarms.

In Toronto, homeowners don’t have to provide extra parking to have a secondary suite. The city recognizes that many tenants who rent in secondary suites don’t have vehicles anyway.

Pincott says the main obstacle in Calgary is attitude. He says, “Public attitude is the biggest hurdle. People have misplaced apprehension here. Secondary suites are a non-issue elsewhere,” he says.

He says the way Calgary has grown has only enabled this attitude. “Calgary has grown with the premise that the goal for everyone is to have a single-family home, and we haven’t put in the processes to encourage anything but that.”

A working paper on affordable housing authored by two City of Calgary planners in February 2004 acknowledges secondary suites as a means to increase affordable housing stock at a lower cost per dwelling unit, make home ownership more accessible and make efficient use of existing housing stock, land, municipal services and infrastructure.

Pincott agrees, adding that the city cannot continue to grow out and must make better use of existing infrastructure. He says, “We’re building our city around having a car,” he says. He would especially like to see secondary suites encouraged around post-secondary institutions and public transit.

The city recognizes growth patterns must change. Its Land Use Planning and Policy department states on its webpage, “Cities without geological barriers such as Calgary typically consume large areas of easily available land for low-density development. This pattern of development is costly to build and maintain, and consumes large tracts of productive land.”

The department’s website points to transit-oriented development (TOD) — walkable, mixed-use development located near transit stations — as a way to grow sustainably. “This form of development utilizes existing infrastructure, optimizes use of the transit network and creates mobility options for transit riders and the local community.”

One of the critical success factors for acceptance of secondary suites acknowledged in the city’s 2004 report is a “full citizen engagement process to fight NIMBY.”

Subsequent reports have echoed these findings, while similar studies in other cities and a major report by the CMHC support the promotion of secondary suites as a way of addressing multiple urban issues.

Calgary Slow to Change

The city is looking to become a better host to secondary suites, albeit at a snail’s pace. A pilot program has been approved by council.

Gail Sokolan, affordable housing co-ordinator for the City of Calgary, says the program, slated to begin in spring of 2009, is aimed at bringing illegal suites into conformity and encouraging new suites to be created. The program will run for one year and offer up to $25,000 to homeowners so they can secure the proper permits and finance construction costs. There are caveats on the grants, though. The suites must be in owner-occupied homes, the owner must make the suite available for rent for a period of at least 10 years for a rental rate that is within the median for the area, and the owner must contribute 30 per cent of the total costs.

“The program will increase the safety of secondary suites and serve to legitimize them,” Sokolan says. The problem is the program will only apply to a maximum of 80 suites — a drop in the bucket. “The program is a tentative first step,” says Pincott. “The intent of the pilot is to show that having rental units in your neighbourhood is a non-issue. The pilot is not a solution to the affordable housing crisis.”

Sokolan says there will be an educational component to the program and, after the year, it will be evaluated with results being sent back to council.

“Ultimately,” Sokolan says, “it’s a matter of council deciding whether or not secondary suites will be permitted.”

Suites Under Fire

Megaw is currently trying to bring her suite up to code so it can be considered legal and so she won’t lose the money she’s already invested in renovations. After the inspection, Megaw had two options — remove her basement kitchen and lose all the money she invested or try to bring the suite up to code. She forked over $300 for a development permit and was met with formal appeals filed by seven of her neighbours, including Watson.

On purchasing her home, Megaw says, “I regret it now. If I had known these were my neighbours, I wouldn’t have bought here. I feel I’ve been unfairly targeted because my neighbours haven’t taken the time to get to know me.” She would also lose money if she sold now, so she’s committed to the process of making her suite legal.

The appeals went to a hearing, and Megaw was awarded her development permit. In order to comply with bylaws and building codes, she still needs to put in additional parking, obtain building permits, install a separate basement furnace and ductwork and more. So far, Megaw has spent more than double her original budget. She has until August 5, 2009 to complete the work, or her development permit will be void. Her frustration is palpable, “How are you supposed to own a house as a single person?”

Megaw’s neighbours have expressed concerns over increased density, though, even with her home’s status as a single-family dwelling, she could legally rent to up to three tenants.

Watson says the difference between renting out rooms and converting a house to having a secondary suite is in the long-term use of the property. She says once a property is altered, it no longer appeals to families and instead appeals to investors. She fears absentee owners who won’t necessarily take pride in ownership or take care in choosing responsible tenants.

Watson says the difference between renting out rooms and adding a secondary suite is in the long-term use of the property. She fears absentee owners who won’t necessarily take pride in ownership or care in choosing responsible tenants.

Watson speaks for those who appealed Megaw’s permit. “We are a pretty good group of people, we keep a close eye on each other’s homes and we are always willing to lend a hand. Don’t fault us for wanting to keep our bay unchanged for as long as possible.”

She thinks the city’s process is pitting neighbours against each other. “It seems that those of us who don’t want high density and a constant change of faces are the bad buys.”

Megaw has a different take on it. “It is people who fear change that cause the most problems because they lack an open mind. Change is good when it is well planned and intended to improve the lives of others.”

Watson and Megaw are my neighbours. I moved into the same bay in May 2007. Like Megaw, I installed a kitchen in my basement, investing approximately $15,000. I rented the suite out and lived upstairs along with another roommate in order to pay the mortgage. In September of this year, I received a notice from the city indicating a complaint had been made against my property. After the development inspector came by, I was issued an order to remove the basement kitchen.

I suspect Watson, Megaw and I will remain neighbours for some years to come. We will all be waiting in anticipation to see whether or not our city chooses to put out a welcome mat for secondary suites.

© Fast Forward Weekly 2009 (http://www.ffwdweekly.com/article/news-views/city/suite-and-sour-2960/)

You Need A Thneed
May 25, 2009, 8:27 PM
We put a suite in our house after we bought it two years ago. Knowing that it would be virtually impossible to get proper permits in place, we, like everyone else in the city, did the work without permits. Now, unlike the majority of others, we tried to do all of the construction to code, and we also tried to make the space as nice as possible.

The basement suite has it's own separate furnace, we had to either put in a high efficiency furnace or a tankless water heater so we didn't go over the existing chiney's capacity, we chose to put in a tankless water heater (which is great). The kitchen has 20A plugs, which our space upstairs doesn't even have.

The windows are large, and are all above grade. In fact, for half of the "basement suite", the floor is above ground level. (we have a four level split - the bottom two levels became the suite). We installed fire rated drywall, insulation and sound bar to the ceiling. The suite has their own seperate washer and dryer, and there is no shared space in the place - except that I store boxes and stuff in the crawlspace for which I have to go through the suite.

Right now, between us and the downstairs tenants, there is only one car.

Compared to some of the suites I saw when we were looking at houses, ours is luxury.

We also spent around $50G to put in the suite, and it would probobly cost 5-10 grand to unconvert it at this point, as the stairs between the levels are gone, and putting them back in would require modifications to a fair amount of space.

I just have to laugh at the cluelessness of so many people in the comments section of the Herald article.

May 25, 2009, 8:39 PM
So long as you didn't put burglar bars on your suite's windows, it's a-OK in my books. :tup:

You Need A Thneed
May 25, 2009, 9:02 PM
So long as you didn't put burglar bars on your suite's windows, it's a-OK in my books. :tup:

No burglar bars on my windows. The smoke detectors work, and are interconnected too. It's really annoying if they are cooking in their kitchen and they don't turn on their range hood. and our smoke detectors go off, but I guess it would be much more than annoying if there actually was a fire, and they weren't interconnected.

May 25, 2009, 10:00 PM
No burglar bars on my windows. The smoke detectors work, and are interconnected too. It's really annoying if they are cooking in their kitchen and they don't turn on their range hood. and our smoke detectors go off, but I guess it would be much more than annoying if there actually was a fire, and they weren't interconnected.

I always wonder just how badly people cook that they could routinely set off their smoke detectors. I think I've done it *once* in my life, and that was deliberately burning some toast - which ended up over-burnt anyway, hence the smoke.

You Need A Thneed
May 25, 2009, 10:10 PM
I always wonder just how badly people cook that they could routinely set off their smoke detectors. I think I've done it *once* in my life, and that was deliberately burning some toast - which ended up over-burnt anyway, hence the smoke.

Some smoke detectors these days are pretty sensitive, it doesn't take a lot of smoke to set one off, sometimes you can't even see any smoke with your eyes. There's a reason smoke detectors aren't usually installed right in the kitchen, or right close to a bathroom (steam from a shower).

May 25, 2009, 10:46 PM
I just have to laugh at the cluelessness of so many people in the comments section of the Herald article.

The comment section shows just how much of a joke our justice system is, guys like Barry and Voice of Reason are clearly repeat offenders (Reducing the Commonness of Common Sense) that should be locked away for good!

Anyway, here is the City's Guide to Developing a Secondary Suite (http://www.calgary.ca/DocGallery/BU/dba/brochures/secondary_suites_brochure.pdf).

You Need A Thneed
May 25, 2009, 11:09 PM
The comment section shows just how much of a joke our justice system is, guys like Barry and Voice of Reason are clearly repeat offenders (Reducing the Commonness of Common Sense) that should be locked away for good!

Anyway, here is the City's Guide to Developing a Secondary Suite (http://www.calgary.ca/DocGallery/BU/dba/brochures/secondary_suites_brochure.pdf).

The city would be far better off if they just tried to ensure that suites were safe. Requiring all the permits and the hardships to get those permits only makes the suites that are built less safe. Like I said in my comment on the Herald article, most people would get building permits and do work to code if it were possible to get the required permits. Like I said, I tried to build our suite to code.

Looking at that brochure just makes it seem that the city just makes the option available, but makes the conditions so hard to attain that it's almost impossible to get permission to build a suite.

Seriously, if every illegal suite was closed down tomorrow in the whole city, the city would be facing an economic crisis such has never been seen before.

May 26, 2009, 1:22 AM
I would say about half the houses on my block have suites in the basement. Being inner city, I think it's more expected. We had a suite in our basement that was at least 40 years old and could be considered grandfathered. There were some really old business cards in a wall we found - 5 digit phone numbers and all. We updated it and a friend of ours now rents it from us. We couldn't afford a place in Crescent Heights if it wasn't for the income the suite generates for us. Most of my neighbours know about the suite, but it's a nonissue for them (some of them have suites too). People who live in this area like people, so density isn't an issue, especially with all the condos and apartment buildings.

A bit off topic, but I was talking with a colleague about my neighbours and she was surprised that I knew and talk to most of them regularly. She's lived in a suburb for years and hasn't gotten to know any of her neighbours even though she's trying. Are people in the inner city more of a people's person? I've lived here less than a year, but can list of half the block's names. Is there more of an issue with people not wanting suites in suburban areas because they're escaping people and the "city"? Just interested to hear what people think.

May 26, 2009, 3:35 AM
When I was in university in Calgary I rented an illegal basement secondary suite in a house in Sunnyside. The retired couple who owned the house were doing it simply to pay the property taxes - and if it was to be made legal it would probably just end up driving up the taxes even further. The suite itself had formerly been used by the couple's son and was fitted out with a fairly nice bathroom, a bright main room (it had a large window) and a basic kitchenette with no permanent fittings (it's amazing what one can do with a bar fridge, kettle, microwave, hotplate and oversized toaster oven). I didn't drive, so parking wasn't an issue, and I made sure that I was quiet so as not to draw any great attention to the place. I would guess that many of the neighbours knew about it but then others had suites as well, and most of the neighbours would know that busting the suite would mean the couple would have to leave. I always figured Calgary had an unofficial "don't ask - don't tell" policy on secondary suites in inner neighbourhoods. It's probably bad PR to be forcing out retired couples.

As with devonb, I think people in places like Sunnyside are more accepting of secondary suites, if only due to necessity.

I agree with the earlier comment that inspections should really focus on genuine safety issues (some suites really are approaching slum conditions) but I guess if someone files a complaint about the very existence of a suite the City is in a catch-22. This comes back to picking a neighbourhood with less neurotic neighbours.

May 26, 2009, 4:17 AM
A bit off topic, but I was talking with a colleague about my neighbours and she was surprised that I knew and talk to most of them regularly. She's lived in a suburb for years and hasn't gotten to know any of her neighbours even though she's trying. Are people in the inner city more of a people's person? I've lived here less than a year, but can list of half the block's names. Is there more of an issue with people not wanting suites in suburban areas because they're escaping people and the "city"? Just interested to hear what people think.

This could almost use its own thread as it's a very heated discussion point with some people. Having lived much of my life in the suburbs, whereas a good chunk of my long-time friends have not, has made me realize just how many stereotypes there are out there. I've known hermits in the inner city, and I've lived on suburban streets where everyone was on a first name basis with each other. Heck, that's how I grew up, so this "suburbanites never know their neighbours" meme has always perplexed me.

Right now, no, I don't know all of my neighbours. Most of us have only been here a few years (VERY typical for the suburbs) and let's face it, in a big city, people just don't go out of their way to meet everyone. You do also tend to get the "soccer parent" phenomenon here, where a lot of people have kids, but they're never home, because they're always running the kids to some activity or another. People don't just spend as much time at home in the suburbs - it's a curse of affluence in some ways. That being said, I know quite a few of them and am often hanging out at one or another's place for beers, BBQ, the usual neighbourly stuff. And I'm anything but a social butterfly, so believe me when I say I don't exactly make an effort at this.

Different strokes for different folks, and everyone seems to have an anecdote or three that in their mind "proves" something one way or the other. I think its selective perception more than anything else because I've never noticed that much of a trend, and it's something I've paid attention to for over 20 years now, ever since an inner city friend first tried to make this claim.

May 26, 2009, 4:40 AM
Not looking to open a can of worms, but I was surprised by what my colleagues said and was interested to hear if people found similar.