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Kelowna council paves the way for secondary suites

It now costs half as much money and months less time to establish a legal mortgage-helper or in-law suite in a Kelowna home.

Monday afternoon, Kelowna city council decided to adopt a new system to reduce wait-times on suite applications to between two and four weeks from two to four months, and knock administrative costs down to $520 from the $1000 range.

"I'm just really pleased this has finally come forward," said Coun. Luke Stack. "It's reducing red tape, it's reducing the timelineā€¦it's reducing the cost."

As one of the original proponents of addressing the secondary suite issue in the city, Coun. Robert Hobson said he too was thrilled with the day's progress, particularly because it opens up housing options in the area.

In years gone by, when Kelowna had one of the lowest vacancy rates in the country, the preponderance of illegal secondary suites posed a unique conundrum for the council as the illegal units offered desperately needed housing, though without checks and balances, like adherence to the building code, to ensure the public's safety.

City bylaw officers were, nonetheless, instructed not to pursue illegal suite investigations unless a particular unit became the subject of complaint in a system that ultimately amounted to turning a blind eye to those who broke the law.

Under the new system, however, those who are caught with an illegal suite will be penalized, and the barriers to obtaining legal status greatly reduced to open up housing options, while ensuring the units meet code.

Those who apply to establish a legal suite will now be charged $510 for their application and concurrently issued a business licence worth $27.50. The business licence will be the only measure residents in the area can use to identify homes with secondary suites as the "S" zoning designation, which previously singled out these homes with suites on area planning maps, will be stricken from the books, eliminating the lengthy trip to council for a zoning change.

Those who do not come forward to apply for the permit on their suite will be charged $277.50 for the business licence, if and when the suite's existence comes to light. The sum is the ordinary cost of the licence, $27.50, plus a $252 charge for the cost of the investigation.

Altogether, the changes mean obtaining a legal suite now costs $537 for those who voluntarily apply for the correct permits and $787 for those who do not.

This is over $400 cheaper than the previous system for both those who voluntarily apply and those who are caught with the suite.

The change means each application no longer has to appear before council and can be dealt with by city staff alone.

The bylaw changes do not absolve homeowners of the costs associated with building a suite that meets the B.C. Building Code standards.

The City of Kelowna currently has the highest vacancy rates in the country, although when the issue first came to council, vacancy rates were among the lowest, making streamlining or "blanket-zoning" secondary suites, as it was popularly termed in the media, one of the primary recommendations of its task force on affordable housing.

Follow Jennifer Smith on Twitter.

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