Highlands Mayor Ken Williams said the District will be hostng a public engagement session in the new year about the growing number of illegal secondary suites that are popping up throughout the municipality. (Gazette file photo)

Highlands takes aim at illegal secondary suites

Report estimates roughly 30 to 50 per cent of homes have unauthorized dwellings

The District of Highlands is taking aim at the growing number of illegal secondary suites popping up throughout the municipality.

But before it moves forward with regulations, council has requested more information from staff regarding how secondary suites would be licensed, what enforcement would look like and what type of impact it would have on services such as sewage.

“This information will help narrow down our focus,” Mayor Ken Williams said.

Secondary suites (not to be confused with short-term vacation rental such as AirBnB) are not permitted under zoning regulations.

However, a staff report estimates approximately 30 to 50 per cent of properties have some form of unauthorized secondary suite or additional unapproved dwellings.

According to the British Columbia Building Code, a secondary suite is an additional dwelling unit located in a residential building with only one other dwelling, located in a building that is a single-family home, and/or has a total floor space of not more than 968 square feet.

Given increasing land costs and housing shortages throughout the Capital Region, it’s an issue the report says will likely continue, which is why the District has decided to tackle it head on as part of its strategic plan.

“There are issues of safety,” said Williams, noting an incident some years ago when a fire started in a secondary suite and a resident died. “It’s a complex subject … It’s a discussion that’s come time for us to have.”

There are some in favour of secondary suites. Many residents have them to help pay for their mortgage, to help support younger or older family members, or to provide a diversity of housing options.

But before council moves forward, Williams said public consultation will be needed.

“We’re going to have a lot of engagement with the public over this and we’re just trying to gather as much pertinent information as we can,” he said, noting the District has been looking at other municipalities around Greater Victoria as to what works and what doesn’t in terms of enforcement. “This is a discussion that needs to be had with the public.”

The public engagement session is expected to take place sometime in the new year.


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