How to protect secondary suites

by Jennifer Paterson26 Mar 2015
A Hamilton city councillor has jump started a conversation about simplifying the application process for secondary suites in seeking to penalize those who add those units without the necessary go-ahead.

“Perhaps the process needs to be improved to reduce the processing time for this type of application or more education of the public is required,” wrote Doug Green, a former municipal employee and an investor, on the CREW Forum.

It has long been common practice for investors to convert a single-family home into a multi-unit building by adding in a basement suite, often by sidestepping the permit application process until after the work is done.

But is has also been a fantastic revenue stream for the average homebuyer who would not otherwise be able to afford their mortgage. “Closing down these suites will do nothing but put a squeeze on much needed affordable rental housing,” wrote investor and broker Omer Quenneville. 

“If this city councillor wants to shut it down, be prepared to offer an alternative."

Hamilton councillor Matthew Green has filed a motion that would see the municipality allowed to amend the policy around the conversion of single-family homes so as “not to continue to reward those property owners.”

The councillor got involved in the discussion on the CREW Forum too, adding that the request is for future non-permit infractions and not a crackdown on pre-existing, non-conforming units.

“I find it curious that you are so shocked that I'd request that ‘investors’ follow the legal process for conversions in our neighbourhood,” he wrote. “I do appreciate the warning to anyone looking to develop in Hamilton centre illegally.”

Claire Morris, a Hamilton resident, also takes issue with investors taking advantage of the affordable housing market to buy single-family homes and convert them illegally into multi-unit dwellings.

“I am all for more development of affordable housing in Hamilton, we certainly can use it,” she said. “But that development needs to be legal and safe. Having prospective landlords submit requests for conversions ahead of time and have them approved before moving forward is hardly unreasonable.”

Another commenter wrote: “Blame past city councils/building departments for allowing this to happen; don't blame the current council for having the courage to try to clean things up.

“Note to investors: if you buy unrecognized property, it will catch up to you. It’s only a matter of time.”

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