Basement suites getting safer

By Ben Hoffman

Two Calgary MLAs formed a committee to address the existence of basement suites across Alberta.

The committee, co-chaired by Calgary Currie MLA Jon Lord and Calgary East MLA Moe Amery, is proposing a new set of building codes, which basement suites do not have.

Currently, basement suites are built according to the duplex and apartment building codes. Because many suites across the province are converted in single dwellings, they do not comply with existing building codes and can be shut down.

"Right now, the building inspectors are being asked to look the other way," Lord said, noting if safety is compromised, it puts the city in a liable position.

The proposed code for basement suites allows for lower ceilings, which many older basement suites have, and less restrictions on how a furnace has to be installed in exchange for installation of windows large enough to facilitate emergency escape and smoke detectors wired together on each floor of the building.

Lord hopes creating this new building code will help ease some of the problems with affordable housing and homelessness in the city.

"We would have plenty of affordable housing if we would only be pragmatic and legalize these [basement suites]," he said.

Lord also hopes it will encourage landowners who are operating suites illegally to make the changes and legalize them.

The Students’ Union’s off-campus housing program does not currently look into the legal status of accommodations they list, leaving that up to the landowners, which means some students could be occupying illegal suites.

Lord and Amery are inviting public response to the proposal.

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