Secondary Suite Reform

Calgary’s application process is changing.

On March 12, 2018 city council voted in favour of a proposal to change the way secondary suite applications are handled in Calgary. The change is only a bylaw amendment, but it’s significant for our city. 

Many property owners in Calgary want to build secondary suites (usually in the form of private, self-contained living spaces in a single-family residence, although there are many possible options). Back in 2010, mayoral candidate Naheed Nenshi made this issue part of his campaign. Eight years later, he’s finally seeing secondary suite reform making progress.

"It's a really big deal. It has finally allowed us to address a really lingering problem.”

- Mayor Nenshi, reported by CBC Calgary 

So, what was the lingering problem? A cumbersome application process. To get a permit for a secondary suite (in an area not zoned for that use) required a land use redesignation. This was a six-month process that required the property owner to take their application to a hearing before city council. In an effort to avoid this process, some owners chose to build suites illegally, with no oversight to ensure they met safety standards. 

Following the March 12 vote, applicants no longer require a land use redesignation, nor do they need to appear before council. Instead, they deal directly with the city’s planning department, where applications will be processed and approved on a comparatively efficient timeline. 

The vote follows years of debate in council and citywide about secondary suites. Are they desirable or undesirable? Do they contribute positively to a community? Will their presence improve the city?

There are still many opponents to secondary suites in Calgary, but like city council, Calgarians are opening up to the possibilities of these additional housing options. It helps that more people are becoming aware of the realities and potential advantages of secondary suites:

  • Greater diversity and affordability of housing types.
  • Supplementary income streams for homeowners.
  • Gradually increased density and community vibrancy that doesn’t require new infrastructure.
  • More, better living options for multigenerational households.

The new bylaw for secondary suite applications requires all suites to be entered into a city-run registry. It will encourage owners of existing suites – including illegal secondary suites – to register and ensure these residences comply with safety codes.

This change to the secondary suite application process brings Calgary a step closer to the goals set out in our Municipal Development Plan – to be a more connected, prosperous, compact city.

March 29th, 2018
Updated: April 2nd, 2018

Following years of debate, city council has approved a bylaw amendment that will make secondary suites a “discretionary use.”