Housing Crunch: Low supply means basement suites in demand

<p>Gil Moore of MAK Moore Ventures has done numerous renovations of basement suites in Langley, allowing residents to create secondary suites. (Matthew Claxton/Langley Advance)</p> -

Gil Moore of MAK Moore Ventures has done numerous renovations of basement suites in Langley, allowing residents to create secondary suites. (Matthew Claxton/Langley Advance)

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Renting in the Langleys often means living below ground.

Secondary suites – often called basement suites – have long been one of the main sources of rental accommodation in the Langleys.

Langley City and Township both legalized secondary suites around 2007.

According to Gerald Minchuk, the City's director of development services, there are just under 300 registered secondary suites in Langley City. The City has more options – as of the 2011 Canadian census, there were 3,960 rental apartment units, 35 per cent of all City housing stock.

The Township revised its system and began charging fees in 2013.

Despite that, most secondary suites are still unregistered.

The Township estimates there are between 6,000 and 8,000 suites in the municipality, said Ramin Seifi, general manager of engineering and community development.

There are just 2,500 suites that are "legal," having registered with the Township for inspection and fees.

Outside of secondary suites, there are full rental houses, and just a few apartment options.

"In recent years, we've had some purpose-built rental housing," Seifi noted. Apartment buildings were constructed in both Willoughby and Murrayville, and there could be more in the future, though none are currently in the pipeline for Township approval.

Secondary suites, meanwhile, are expanding fast.

Township stats show there were 455 suites added officially in 2015 and 375 in 2016. Another 249 have already been added as of August this year.

There is a shortage of rental units – the vacancy rate in Metro Vancouver was 0.6 per cent last year.

Gil Moore, owner of MAK Moore Ventures, has been building basement suites in and around Langley for years.

"Our business is probably evenly split between doing suites and finishing basements," he said of the renovation side of his work.

There are three different types of clients he sees, Moore said. First are new buyers who need a tenant in a suite as a mortgage helper.

Second, there are those selling a home who add a suite to make the home more attractive.

Third, there are people who already have a suite – but are bringing it up to code and into compliance with local regulations.

Most suites are one bedroom, as there often isn't room for anything more.

"We've built them where virtually the kitchen is on top of the living space," Moore said.

There are challenges to fitting a suite into both older and newer homes. Older homes may require more upgrades, because the building codes for basements have changed.

New homes don't provide as much space.

"The floor plate for the home is actually quite small," said Moore. There isn't as much basement to work with.

Including appliances, the total cost for creating a secondary suite is usually about $45,000 to $55,000.

Moore doesn't see too many DIY projects, though he knows of a few. The problem is that there are a large number of specialties and sub-trades involved. A typical job involves carpentry, plumbing, concrete work, electrical, drywall, glass for mirrors and shower doors, tiling, and painting.

It also requires a good knowledge of the BC Building Code to get everything approved, Moore said.

Because many of those living in secondary suites have their own cars, parking has become a hot-button issue in areas with dense single family housing and lots of suites.

Suite dwellers often park on the street, and in areas where there is limited parking, or where homeowners also park at the curb, that has caused issues around the region.

Surrey recently announced it was cracking down on illegal secondary suites in East Clayton neighbourhood, due to parking issues.

Suites often come up in debates at Township council over parking issues in growing neighbourhoods.

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