The City of Lethbridge has implemented new standards for secondary suites effective January 1, 2009. This morning, myself and close to 100 other REALTORS® from the Lethbridge and District Association of REALTORS®, had the pleasure of listening to the City's Chief Fire Marshall, Mr. Ken Knox, as he explained some of the finer points of the new Bylaw and how changes will begin to take effect. We also heard from Alderman Tom Wickersham about how the city plans to help property owners come into compliance. Below are some of the key points of the information session:
- The new Bylaw came into existence after the Provincial government's creation of a new Fire Code. It's main purpose is to encourage safe, affordable rental accommodations and to give fire officials some additional power to enforce the province's new Fire Code.
- The Bylaw applies to secondary suites in single, detached dwellings constructed before January 1, 2007. They must have one off street parking space and a separate entrance or a shared entrance with a common landing. (It does not include suites within garages, duplexes, townhouses, apartments, or boarding houses.)
The Fire Department will get involved only:
1. On request from the property owner
2. On request from an authorized agent of the property owner.
3. Upon receipt of a complaint from a tenant occupying the suite. (Key word, occupying.)
One of the above individuals can contact the Fire Prevention Branch at 403-320-3811 or firstname.lastname@example.org They will collect property information including address, and the owners name and contact information. An inspection of the property will then be arranged. The Fire Department will be looking at three major things, namely, bedroom windows, smoke alarms and means of egress (escape) as well as several other factors that contribute to the overall safety of the suite.
Once the inspection is done, they will prepare a report detailing all repairs and modifications necessary to bring the suite into compliance. The normal grace period for repairs will be 90 days, however, if extenuating circumstances arise, an extension may be granted.
Once repairs and modifications are made, the Fire Department will return and if the suite meets code, they will prepare a letter that will be sent directly to Development Services at City Hall. They will then issue a certificate of compliance naming the suite as "legal" and this will be kept on file under the property address It is worthy to note that the City has agreed to waive the $48 permit application fee normally associated with this process. A copy of the certificate will then be sent to the homeowner along with information on grants available to offset the property owner's costs.
1. It will improve the SAFETY of secondary suites. In my opinion, human life and safety should be held at the very forefront, miles above financial gain (i.e. rental income). Landlords that choose to turn a blind eye to the safety of their rental accommodations could be putting themselves and their tenants in a very precarious position. See Landlord Charged in Fire...
2. Legalizing an existing suite should have a positive impact on the market value of the home and will make them much more attractive to potential purchasers.
3. Funding is available. The city has set aside $260,000 of it's budget to assist property owners with the upgrades necessary to legalize suites. Although they have not yet decided on how the money will be dispersed or the exact application process, it is in the works and should be finalized very soon. Funding is expected to be capped at $2500 and will be allocated per suite as opposed to per applicant. All upgrades must be done prior to applying for the funding.
4. Federal Money is available through the implementation of a temporary Home Renovation Tax Credit that will provide up to $1,350 in tax relief, reduce the cost of renovations and help to stimulate the economy.
1. Property owners will likely see a tax increase corresponding to the improvements made to the property.
2. It will be difficult to enforce the Bylaw if neither the property owner nor the tenants wish to come forward.
3. Property owners that have come forward (or whose tenants have come forward) and then find they cannot financially afford to perform the upgrades necessary for compliance will have the option to abandon the suite. This will put extra pressure on a city already dealing with a rental shortage.
IMO - The new Bylaw will present challenges, as any change of this magnitude can be expected to, but no price can ethically be attached to human life and safety, which is ultimately the main focus of this Bylaw. Diligent property owners should make all reasonable efforts to be aware of the changes and to bring existing suites into compliance.
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