By Collin Gallant on March 13, 2018.
Don and Carol Warkentin say they sleep better at night knowing the basement suite they rent is up to code.
That’s despite additional construction work done recently, but they say their Norwood-area home is now safer and more valuable, and their downstairs unit easier to rent.
“When we advertised the suite we were slammed,” said Carol Warkentin, as the couple showed off the suite to reporters on Monday. “We had 29 (inquiries) in three days and I think the reason is that we were able to say that it was certified by the city.”
The couple are among about 35 landlords that have applied to a city program to have secondary suites inspected by fire officials to ensure they comply with 10-year-old building codes officials say aren’t top of mind for many.
Another 50 applications are being reviewed, among the estimated 150 secondary suites that could exist in the city.
The registry program was launched last summer after fire officials stated that over 18 months they had discovered six non-compliant suites when they responded to structure fires.
In 2006, the province brought in mandatory regulations for all secondary suites and gave landlords two years to do upgrades to become compliant.
Last year, the department noted it had relatively few requests for building code inspections. In response, administrators offered to wave inspection fees to landlords who brought units up to code.
“There’s a misconception that older suites are ‘grandfathered,'” said Carter Gramlich, a fire prevention officer with the Medicine Hat Fire Service. “But that doesn’t apply to rental properties, and there are extra regulations for secondary suites.”
Those regulations include the need for secondary suites to have separate entrances, hardwired smoke detectors and a structural firebreak between units. There are also size requirements for bedroom windows to allow for escape in case of fire.
“We have a good relationship with landlords,” said Gramlich. “But by and large though, landlords didn’t know what the requirements were. This is a process to educate them and work with them.”
In the Warkentins’ case, they planned renovations to their ground floor and had building inspectors mention the rental regulations.
“We had a suite that wasn’t legal,” said Don Warkentin. “There was a cost involved, but we made that choice because we love having a tenant, so it was never an issue of should we or shouldn’t we.”
The city’s secondary suite database is available online at medicinehat.ca/suites.
Officials are encouraging renters to look for certified suites, as well as owners and potential home buyers to research requirements or their potential real estate purchases.
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