Are you looking to sell or buy and wondering what is required to achieve municipal compliance? Are you looking to tear down and get permits to build and develop a new home? Are you looking to legalize an existing or new basement suite? These are important questions that require clear answers before homeowners; renovators; and homebuilders proceed with a development or writing / acceptance / removing conditions on an offer to purchase. Sellers, upon listing, should ask their REALTOR® for ideas and techniques to proactively address potential issues that may arise through the course of their property sale.
Taking the City of Edmonton as an example (all municipalities are different), open the first link below to review a document entitled “Mature Neighborhood Overlay Information Package: Regulations for Yards, Access, Design, and Height Requirements” dated June 2006. The second link contains the City's website for obtaining current information along with the City's contact information [Note: all muncipalities, while may have similarities, have very different regulations so you must contact the muncipality for which your property is located to obtain the relevant standards and regulations that will be applied].
< Open Link to View City of Edmonton - June 2006: 'Regulations for Yards, Access, Design, & Height Requirements'
< Open Link to View City of Edmonton - January 2020: 'Secondary Suites' >
In these packages, Buyers, Sellers, and homebuilders can refer for help to determine possible answers to Kelly Grant's 20 important questions below (note regulations are subject to change as time progresses, in relation to the current Alberta Building Code):
(1). Is the minimum setback distance for the front yard of your property in compliance?
(2). Is the front porch, verandah, and deck dimensions / locations of your property in compliance?
(3). Is the minimum setback distance for the side yard(s) of your property in compliance?
(4). Is the vehicular access (or accesses) for your property in compliance?
(5). Is your lot on a corner which makes different regulations applicable vs. standard regular lots?
(6). Is your garage, including width, in compliance considering the size of lot for your property?
(7). Are the window locations of your property in compliance considering the building height?
(8). Are the eavestrough overhangs for your property in compliance?
(9). Are all structures, decks, fencing, etc. locations and elevations in compliance?
(10). Will your property be subject to landscaping regulations to achieve compliance?
(11). For a secondary suite, does your ceiling height meet the minimum requirement?
(12). For a secondary suite, is there a direct exit to the outdoors?
(13). For a secondary suite, does each bedroom have at least one window that is properly-sized, constructed, and unobstructed in both directions for emergency escape during a fire?
(14). For a secondary suite, is there adequate fire protection installed for all ceilings, walls, and exits?
(15). For a secondary suite, have the smoke alarms been hard-wired and interconnected and is there recently inspected fire extinguishers, smoke detectors, and carbon monoxide detectors?
(16). For a secondary suite, have any gas-fired water heaters and furnaces been enclosed in a room with fire-protected walls?
(17). For a secondary suite (new permit), are there independent heating and ventilation systems?
(18). For a secondary suite (new permit), are all aspects of the current Alberta Building Code satisfied?
(19). For a secondary suite, is there a minimum 360 sq. m. lot size and adequate parking available?
(20). For a secondary suite, are there no more than two suites total for any property that is not legally allowed (by zoning) for use as a four-plex or apartment building?
After knowing the property zoning and allowable land usages (ask your REALTOR® to provide), Buyers, Sellers, and homebuilders should contact the planning and development department at the City of Edmonton or other municipality for current updates, corrections, and / or interpretations of regulations for permits and compliance).
Note that separate permits are required to apply for heating and ventilation, plumbing, gas, and electrical; and the application date of a permit or compliance is important because that defines the applicable regulations. If a building or development permit (e.g. for a garage, deck, or basement suite) was not ordered and obtained at the time it was built when regulations were less rigorous, often the municipality will not grandfather in past regulations to help an owner be in compliance with current rules that might be more restrictive. Exceptions to grandfathering may be made in cases where an older structure was built in compliance with the old zoning and prior to the property being rezoned to a more rigorous zoning. In those cases the municipality may allow the older structure to remain but if the property owner were to tear down and rebuild they would have to follow current zoning and building codes as they would apply.
If a valid Real Property Report (RPR) and Compliance cannot be located, unless a property is being sold strictly for land value, Sellers (before or after listing with their REALTOR®) are advised to immediately contact a reputable surveyor to conduct a survey as soon as possible and then arrange to submit to the municipality (e.g. City of Edmonton or County office) for compliance. If a secondary suite is in place that has not been legalized, Sellers may wish to contact a reputable certified home inspector to find out ‘what changes must be made to meet the current Alberta Building Code’ to know what a prudent Buyer may expect. [Notes: (a). Most real estate lawyers, for a fee, can handle the RPR service for Sellers; (b). Except in a very small quantity of property sales, Sellers are 100% responsible for achieving compliance minimum 10 days prior to completion date (turnover) of their property or risk facing a Buyer holdback until complete.]
In summary, following municipal building codes is important because municipalities maintain the power to force property owners to immediately: (a). Order late building and development permits and possibly pay large fines; (b). Remove or change any component of a structure or other fixed attached good in whole or in part that does not match current regulations (a benefit to having title insurance if the issue was not known in advance); and (c). Obtain documents such as RPR and Compliance, encroachment agreements, etc. If the Seller is in the midst of turning over a property to a Buyer, delays in dealing with these matters can be costly and holdbacks may be initiated until compliance is achieved, and outright Buyer recission of the purchase contract (with legal fees and damages owing) is a further possibility. Sellers and Buyers are advised to discuss these topics with their REALTOR® (and real estate lawyer) at the first opportunity (e.g. the listing date and / or the offer written date) to develop a remedy strategy that is proactive, legal, and cost-effective.
[Article written and ©2009, ©2020 by Kelly Grant, M.Eng., ABR, NCSO, P.Eng. - REALTOR® at MaxWell POLARIS in Edmonton, AB]
Disclaimer: for those readers not currently represented by another licensed REALTOR®, to obtain more information on this topic and / or if you will be selling or buying in the Greater Edmonton Area, call Kelly at 780-414-6100 (pager) or send Kelly an email to SOLD@KellyGrant.ca to schedule a confidential appointment.