Nanaimo council legalizes suites in duplexes

NANAIMO – Secondary suites are legal in duplexes, but landlords still have to apply for rezoning.

Secondary suites in duplexes are now legal in Nanaimo.

Nanaimo city council opted to legalize mortgage helpers in duplexes, which can now be rezoned to allow suites.

Under previous rules, city inspectors required the landlords of illegal duplex suites to rezone into a four plex, which triggered development cost charges, frontage works and services and the installation of fire sprinklers.

The change wasn’t ‘economically viable’ for people, who either shut down their rental units or refused to rezone – sparking enforcement action, said Dale Lindsay, the city’s acting director of development.

The city needed to recognize duplexes with suites were a ‘unique housing form’ not a four plex to bolster rental stock and reduce illegal suites, he said, adding that people can now apply for a new duplex zoning.

The move eliminates development cost charges, while giving council the authority to vet each application.

Council members, debating the move Monday, said it was a ‘step forward.’

The city has been delinquent in dealing with its illegal mortgage helpers, according to Coun. Bill Bestwick. The new zoning category will help the city take more control of the suite situation without officials being “really, really heavy handed.”

But Coun. Diane Brennan said it’s not a complete legalization. While secondary suites in single family homes are legal across the board, duplex owners must still apply for rezoning. Neighbourhoods will get a say in whether they are allowed – a situation the city purposely wanted to avoid during its first effort to legalize suites in 2005.

Neighbours frequently base their opinion “on the apprehension renters are bad things in a neighourhood,” Brennan said.

“To me it’s a disappointment, but I see [the new policy] as a … baby step along the way to complete legislation.”

The review of secondary suite in duplexes was triggered in February when Nanaimo city council grappled with enforcement action on an illegal rental and the issue of requiring landlords to rezone to a four plex.

The Development Process Review Committee took on the issue, recommending this week that the city recognize duplexes as legitimate housing, separate from a four plex. The new approach would allow landlords to authorize suites built before January 2013 by addressing life safety issues. New and proposed additions would have to legalize suites by meeting building code requirements. The majority of all illegal units will have to get rezoned.

The new policy was immediately put into effect.