Alberta Landlords Association

Have a Secondary Suite? Make It Legal and Make It Safe

June 1st, 2013

Lethbridge alberta landlords illegal suites

According to a report in the Lethbridge Herald some tenants are being evicted because their rental home is a fire hazard. Instead of being legal and safe, the secondary suite violates fire codes, municipal zoning regulations and provincial health and safety laws.  And once the renters are gone, there’s little the city can do to make sure other prospective tenants don’t fall victim to the same kind of illicit accommodations.

We know there is political pressure in our province to make secondary suites legal and safe. The problem is the majority of renters who are heading to illegal properties know that they aren’t lawful right from the start. 

Groundhog Day

At the moment, it is very difficult to keep tabs on illegal suites.

The same property owners are being caught time and time again as they need to rent in order to cover the costs of owning a property. This is because once a person has been evicted, the inspectors will return to check the property to ensure nobody is living there.

However the inspectors return only once.This leads to some property owners to start all over again and re-rent until they receive the next complaint. The whole situation repeats itself. It is only in the most extreme circumstances that any landlord is actually fined under the Public Health Act.

Delayed Evictions

At the moment, inspectors are taking the stance where people are not going to be evicted straight away. In fact, many are willing to work with the landlords to bring the property up to scratch. Only if there is an immediate risk will somebody get evicted.

With the lack of affordable rental housing many tenants living in these rental apartments face homelessness if they let word get out. Instead, they are keeping quiet and not complaining. At the moment, there is one new illegal suite being discovered every two weeks, which means that a lot of people’s life are currently in danger as a result.

Tenants unwilling to find themselves homeless are less likely to report their illegal living situations, thus, the real number of illegal suites in Lethbridge remains unknown. 

Fire Prevention Officer

According to fire prevention officer Doug Braodhead, “There’s kind of a catch-22 in that situation, that if they come to me and say that ‘I live in an illegal suite,’ then there’s certain options. One is that they might get kicked out, because that’s the option that we give the owners – they have to vacate the suite. So they might be putting themselves in a bad situation,” by making a complaint.

Broadhead estimated he inspects at least one unregistered suite every two weeks. He says “The thing is, when they get caught is when they have a fire, and that’s when they’re really in trouble,” he said. “That’s the risk they’re taking by putting someone back in there month after month. In the long run, it’s better to just upgrade your suite, make it legal, make it safe. And then if there is a fire they’re not held liable for it.”

The system isn’t broken like other provinces, it’s up to individual landlords to invest back into their properties.

To discuss this and other landlord and tenant issues go to the Alberta Landlord Forum.

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