Wednesday, April 07, 2010

Secondary Suites

The local governments in this region are falling down in protection of the public by not ensuring all the secondary suites are up to code. At the moment almost all the local governments turn a blind eye to secondary suites and allow them to exist.

The current regime rewards people that do not try to make their suites legal. You build it without a permit and no inspections, this costs less than going through the local government hoops. The official rules will not allow secondary suites, but many people flaunt this and do not try to make them legal. The upshot is that the majority of secondary suites in the region are not suitable housing for the public.

The local governments need to take three actions. First they need to generally make secondary suites legal. Second they need to make sure that all suites are registered and up to the current building code. Third, they need to actively and regularly ensure that there are no illegal secondary suites.

The reality is that we need secondary suites to house the population of this city, but the way they are now is not helping. The current situation is clearly and completely due to the local governments dropping the ball on the issue. When the by-laws were created to make secondary suites in most residential neighbourhoods illegal the city population was dramatically smaller than now, the demand for inexpensive housing was not as crucial as today. These restrictions are no longer relevant or useful.

One only needs to look at the real estate listings and see how many of the houses being sold are advertised with secondary suites, almost none of them legal. There is an issue of professional ethics from realtors for allowing advertising which mention of illegal secondary suites, but this is for another time and place. The information is out there about the secondary suites, how many and where and if they are legal or not. Local governments can very easily find the suites through the real estate ads and the information held by BC Assessment, but no one can be bothered to look.

Looking at the MLS listings, it is clear that there are no neighbourhoods in Greater Victoria that do not have secondary suites. They exist in Fairfield, South Oak Bay, Uplands and Broadmead, the sort of tony neighbourhoods that are supposed to be locations that do not have secondary suites.

I think there is a case for local government liability with respect to secondary suites. The information to find the suites is there and many of them are wildly substandard, but the local governments tacitly agrees with them existing. Are they then saying it is OK to have them and that they are suitable housing?

Given the price of housing in this region, the average person needs to be able to rent out part of the house to make the payments. The way the local governments operate with respect to secondary suites is making many people break the law that normally would not. It is always bad when government laws cause people break them. It starts a process public corruption and harms the social fabric of our city.

We have to change the status quo with respect to secondary suites and it is local governments have to take responsibility immediately.
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