A recent report in the Calgary Herald details how tenants are forcing Calgary second suits to shut down.
Landlord Mchel Selim came to Canada thirteen years ago from Syria. When he first arrived, he could only afford a basement suite. Selim is proud he is now in a position to own investment properties and rent out basements suites to others who want low cost rental housing.
Selim was renting to a single Mother and her daughter when he was reported for having an illegal secondary suite. Later he received a another notice for another property he owns. This will force the tenant to leave and Selim will receive no income.
Selim understands if the notices to shut down were due to neighbors upset with the tenants displaying bad behavior or arguments over parking. However, both of the government notices were by tenants angry at their landlord!
Tools of Vengeance
The first notice was by the tenant who lived in the upstairs unit who was upset the landlord complained about friends living with him without paying rent. The second notice was due to the downstairs tenant angry about how the landlord was treating her friend who rented the upstairs unit.
According to Selim, both complaints were fueled by tenants desire for ‘revenge’ against him.
He also believes both reports were made in bad faith.
There were 380 reports against unregulated suites in 2011. They continue at the same pace in 2012. When the rules are enforced, landlords are essentially helpless to do anything.
The situation even frustrates the head of the Calgary compliance branch. City staff are often used by angry tenants as tools of vengeance instead of being contacted out of real concern for safety or health codes.
What is the Government Doing About this?
Calgary mayor Naheed Nenshi has attempted to get City Council to relax secondary suite bylaws. However, so far he hasn’t been successful.
According to Mayor Nenshi:
“They’re not the most unsafe ones, or the most dangerous ones, or the ones that are causing the biggest problems in the neighbourhood. They’re the ones people complain about for one reason or another.”
“And so, yet again, the system is ridiculous. We’re pretending we’re doing something about the situation, when all we’re doing is addressing a tiny fraction of the problem, based entirely on whether you have an angry tenant or angry neighbour.”
Next week council will discuss possible alternative ways of enforcement. However, council is split on the issue and the Mayor’s allies predict nothing will change prior to the next election.
So Why Don’t Landlords Simply Follow the Law?
Ald. Andre Chabot represents an east end ward which has traditionally had most of the citys unregistered secondary suites. Chabot states he will push for tough enforcement policies which are not only based on tenant or neighbor complaints. According to Chabot, “If you’re going to have two suites in a house, you should be paying increased taxes.”
However, rezoning a property to be legal under the legislation is not only costly and complex, politicians get the ‘final say.’ In 2011 eight homeowners applied to make their properties legal. Three were refused. Those voting them down included Chabot.
According to Selim, it’s so complicated he will avoid the process and instead apply to construct a proper new duplex on his large lot!
Landlord Gizella Heiter also states she won’t bother trying to follow the government rules by rezoning. She had an unhappy tenant call 311 to report the suite in her basement in 2010.
Heiter explains the inspector sent even complimented how nice the rental suite was…but it was still an illegal suite.
While the former tenant found another place to rent, Heiter now gets around the bylaw by renting her basement out without a kitchen. According to the law if the basement doesn’t have a kitchen it isn’t illegal.
Heiter says she now rents to single guys who are happy with only a hot plate.