This article appears in the February 2018 issue of Kitsbeach Magazine
With the rapidly increasing cost of housing in Vancouver, secondary suites have been rising in demand. Homeowners can benefit from additional income to help with mortgage payments or a private home for family members like children or elderly parents.
The City of Vancouver requires homeowners looking to add a secondary suite to their property to obtain a building permit. This is an often complicated process where a large number of concerns need to be addressed. Building code and safety regulations concerning things like ceiling height, interconnected fire alarms, fire separation between dwellings and individual electrical panels in each unit are just a few of the many things the city requires to be up to code before a project can move forward.
The process of adding a secondary suite in older homes is often very challenging. These homes (especially in Kitsilano) tend to have low basement ceilings, creating additional complications during the permit process. Under the code, a minimum ceiling height of 6 feet, 6 inches, is required on a minimum of 80% of the floor plan. The remaining 20% allows for lower ceilings for areas such as beams and bulkheads for heating, plumbing and ventilation. Any beams below that height located on access routes such as hallways must be recessed into the ceiling with joist hangers. Fire access on the side of the house is one of the largest concerns the city looks into when evaluating any plans. According to code, you require 3 feet of space without any obstacles like wall projections, electric or gas meters, fireplace direct vents, or other types of side vents. These are only two examples of the many items the planner will be looking for when evaluating your application. Planners will only accept plans that have been drafted to the City of Vancouver’s standard. Permit applications that are not in the required format and scales will be rejected immediately. Hiring a professional is your best bet for keeping your application moving with as little confusion and stress as possible.
Once your initial application is accepted, you will need to wait while the plan checkers evaluate your plans. This process can take anywhere from between 6 weeks to 4 months, although there is no set amount of time. This only applies if you will not be doing any exterior alterations, which require a notification process with your neighbors, a lengthy process that can cause further delays. Any errors or notes from the city planners will either be written directly on the plans or a new printed copy will be requested with any and all errors corrected.
After the planning department’s work on your application, your plans will be passed to your district city inspector. Once the inspector has the plans in hand, they will do a full review of the plan set. After the inspector finishes examining your plans, you may make a booking for a field review. During the field review, the inspector will go over your project and address any code issues that were missed in your plan set. They will be looking for any fire, safety or building code issues in the existing building that require upgrading. These kind of issues may include missing guardrails, low headroom on stairwells or similar problems that require attention.
This process can often be difficult and confusing, given the City of Vancouver’s intricate and complicated building code. Getting an advocate with an in-depth knowledge of the permit process is vital to saving you time and stress, letting you enjoy your new secondary suite sooner, rather than later.