For many years, illegal and non-conforming basement suites have been the bane of many real estate transactions and mortgage applications. The City of Lethbridge has tried to deal with the situation several times in the past few decades, at one time allowing suites that were in existence before 1969 to remain in their non-conforming condition and making exceptions onf suites which were constructed after 1969.
As 2008 drew to a close, a new fire code amendment required all existing basement suites to be improved to meet a minimum safety level including smoke and fire detectors, proper egress windows on all bedrooms, free access to exits from the suite, and containing all HVAC systems behind moderately fire retardant walls.
To the bestof my knowledge, most landlords made no effort to comply.
A recent house fire in Calgary this past week is certain to bring this issue to the front page of the newspaper and encourage more discussion in the community and City Council chambers.
Now, a new grant program eliminates all excuses for a landlord to fail to improve the conditions of their properties and comply with the fire code. Here is a recent article which details the grants.
|City to offer incentives for secondary rental suite safety upgrades||
|Written by Gerald Gauthier|
|Wednesday, 28 January 2009|
Grants of up to $2,500 could be available by spring to reimburse homeowners for improvements they make to suites in existence before 2007 within singe-family homes. The goal is to ensure such suites are safe for tenants and meet provincial fire and building codes.
A total of $260,000 has been set aside for the grant program, and an application process is still in the works, said Ald. Tom Wickersham.
In December, a new bylaw was enacted that makes compliant pre-existing suites a permitted use in residential areas where they previously required special permits from the city. The measures are part of a larger effort to address a critical shortage of affordable housing in Lethbridge.
Chief Fire Marshal Ken Knox said he hopes property owners with pre-existing secondary suites will see the benefits of complying with the new regulations and contact the fire prevention office to arrange for assessments of their rental units.
“If people have secondary suites and they don’t call us, they’re (effectively) saying they don’t want to get them to a level of life safety,” he said.
Safety inspections can be requested by property owners, tenants or owners’ agents such as property managers, realtors or lawyers.
A fire prevention officer will conduct a 16-point inspection, Knox said, but the focus will be on three critical elements: smoke alarms, unobstructed escape routes and bedroom windows at least 38 centimetres in width and height to serve as emergency exits. Heating and ventilation systems will also be checked. Once upgrades have been completed as required, the city will issue a permit making the suite legal.
In 2006, the province announced owners of pre-existing suites had until December 2008 to bring their properties into compliance with the new Alberta Fire Code.
The intent of the new fire code, he said, is to make it easier for owners to affordably achieve an equivalent safety level in pre-existing suites rather than insisting on strict conformance to the updated 2006 Alberta Building Code.
New suites in existing residential areas are still subject to an inspection and approval process, however, and must fully comply with building and fire codes.
Robert W May is a Real Estate Broker in Lethbridge Alberta, having now been in the industry for over 23 years. . He was also a licensed Lethbridge mortgage broker and financing expert with Canada First Mortgage of Calgary Alberta for the past 10 years. He is an industry leader always willing to help train and educate others in how to improve their business models for financial and personal benefit.