Suite fee ‘a slap in the face’

Secondary suite owners packed Red Deer city council chambers on Monday to show their disdain for a licensing fee that many believe is just another tax grab for the city.

Secondary suite owners packed Red Deer city council chambers on Monday to show their disdain for a licensing fee that many believe is just another tax grab for the city.

About 30 people attended city council to find out whether council would support a staff-recommended annual fee of $165. The Secondary Suites Licensing Bylaw was to be considered for final readings, but council postponed a decision to Feb. 21 so they could weigh public comments.

Seventeen owners/representatives addressed their concerns during the evening public meeting.

Among those was Harold Line who said people like himself have been working with the city to ensure these self-contained suites were legalized according to new rules. He was appalled the city is talking about additional fees.

“Honestly, this is a bit of a slap in the face,” Line said.

Owner Al Kennedy described the licensing bylaw as wrong because it penalizes those who have legalized their suites.

“We abided by the land use bylaw, the safety codes,” Kennedy said. “You are going to tax us. The ones that don’t comply, that are a hazard, you won’t be able to do anything about. I don’t have a problem with the $165 licence fee if it applies to every rental property in this city.”

One man favoured getting tough on secondary suite owners who haven’t been complying and said troublesome suites should be shut down.

The city is looking at licensing because it will help determine ownership, ensure the suite remains active, prevent unauthorized suites to remain open, and allow new applications to be considered for approval when existing suites are removed.

A report was initially presented on licensing on Nov. 28.

Since that time, the city has received 65 letters, many in opposition to the additional fee as well as other components of the bylaw, such as inspections.

“And so the poor beleaguered secondary suite owners are once again the target of the City of Red Deer,” said Cheryl Jarvis in a Dec. 29 to city council. “Why must there be an annual fee paid? My pockets are no deeper than they were when the city caused me the need to pay out upwards of $10,000 to make my suite worthy of a legal occupancy permit.”

Secondary suite owner Rachelle Andre wrote that this extra fee will end up being passed onto renters because she feels she has no other choice.

“$165 per year to keep a licence valid is a plain and simple tax grab,” wrote owners Carrie J. and Dominic B. White.

Lani Parr, chair of the Secondary Suite Ad-Hoc committee, said they support licensing because it would results in increased transparency.

The City of Red Deer sent out more than 600 letters to secondary suite owners to inform them of the licensing bylaw.

Some of those letters were returned to the city, which acting Inspections and Licensing manager Joyce Boon said could indicate they were dealing with incorrect addresses. This is one reason why licensing would be good, so they can keep better track of suites, she said.

But one owner wondered if there was a better way of dealing with the issue.

“Maybe we need to have some kind of an incentive program,” said owner Donna Grose.

Another secondary suite owner stood up at the podium to question how the city was actually enforcing these suites.

Administration recommended the proposed $165 licence fee would go ahead, with this fee coming into effect on March 1. Owners would have to have a licence by June 1. The $165 fee is what is charged for a home occupation business.

Two other options were suggested.

One would consider all secondary suite owners as “residents” and so they would be charged $55 per year for a business licence for a secondary suite.

The other option would charge $55 annually for a business licence for an owner who lives in Red Deer, otherwise the cost would be $330 annually for non-residents of Red Deer.

Owner Wayne Anderson questioned the variance in fees since he lives only about 25 minutes from Red Deer. He said it would be a huge cost to an owner who only has one or two secondary suites to hire an agent in Red Deer to act on behalf of him.

Boon said she doesn’t envision random inspections being done as some owners had expressed in letters.

But if there was non-compliance in licensing or complaints from neighbours, then staff would go out and check, Boon said.

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