Overview: Opportunity to legitimize illegal spaces in detached and duplex dwellings
Whistler council recently adopted the following three bylaws, which provide an opportunity for homeowners to legitimize illegal space constructed and occupied in residential buildings:
- Zoning Amendment Bylaw No. 1992, 2012
- Land Use Procedures and Fees Amendment Bylaw No. 2008, 2012
- Building and Plumbing Regulation Amendment Bylaw No. 2007, 2012
The following information explains how the bylaw amendments affect detached and duplex dwellings in Whistler:
Zoning Amendment Bylaw No. 1992 changed the zoning bylaw definition of Gross Floor Area (GFA) to clarify which floor areas could be excluded from the GFA calculation.
The zoning changes are subject to a two-year trial period, during which staff will monitor the effect of the changes on property owners and the community as a whole and report back to council.
Zoning Amendment Bylaw No. 1992 included the following changes:
- Permits a newly defined “basement floor area” to be excluded from the calculation of GFA in all detached and duplex dwelling buildings within the municipality. The “basement floor area” exclusion is defined as “having an elevation at least one metre below the average level of finished ground adjoining the exterior walls of the building, to a maximum of 125 per cent of the floor area of the storey immediately above. Download a diagram outlining areas included and excluded in GFA calculation.
- Removed the option to construct over height crawl spaces and void spaces in all buildings in the municipality. The zoning bylaw previously allowed over height ‘crawl spaces’ to be constructed and excluded from GFA calculations, so long as the owner registered a covenant stating that the space would not be used for any purpose.
- Permits a GFA exclusion for exterior walls that are thicker than six inches (152 mm) in all buildings in the municipality in support of energy efficiency and conservation.
Who does the zoning amendment affect?
The first change applies to all owners of detached and duplex dwelling buildings, which are regulated by the Zoning Bylaw. This change applies to new construction, and all existing and illegal spaces in detached and duplex dwelling buildings.
The second and third changes affect owners of all properties, which include a GFA calculation as part of their zoning regulations.
How does this zoning amendment affect new additions to detached and duplex dwellings?
Homeowners will now be able to exclude a basement floor area from the GFA calculation, if it complies with the amended definition in the zoning bylaw. This will permit owners additional floor area on their property without requiring rezoning applications.
Homeowners will apply for a regular building permit for this space and will require regular inspections at appropriate intervals by a municipal inspector.
How does this zoning amendment affect existing illegal spaces in detached and duplex dwellings?
The zoning amendment provides an opportunity for homeowners to bring an illegal space into conformance with municipal requirements by applying for a building permit and having the space inspected by the municipality.
Illegal spaces have created uncertainty for property owners, contractors, and realtors with respect to zoning and building code compliance, in addition to potential life safety, insurance, and liability implications for owners. Many of these spaces, when they were originally constructed, could not obtain building permits because this additional floor area would have resulted in a total GFA exceeding the maximum permitted GFA for the property.
This zoning amendment encourages homeowners to bring illegal spaces into conformance through a regular building permit application process, and it eliminated the time and costs for individual rezoning applications.
For some properties in Whistler a land use contract (LUC) or covenant limits the permitted Gross Floor Area, making some detached and duplex residential buildings ineligible for the basement floor area exclusion as defined in the Zoning Bylaw above.
Land Use Procedures and Fees Bylaw No. 1821, 2007 includes an existing procedure and fee structure for a land use contract amendment application; however it did not include a procedure or fee structure for a covenant modification.
Land Use Procedures and Fees Amendment Bylaw No. 2008, 2012 establishes a procedure and fee structure for a covenant modification for a detached dwelling or duplex dwelling to exclude basement floor area in cases where the covenant limits Gross Floor Area.
This is consistent with council’s intention to apply the same basement gross floor area exclusion to detached and duplex dwellings not regulated by the Zoning Bylaw.
How can I apply for a covenant modification or land use contract amendment to exclude basement floor area from my detached or duplex dwelling?
The purpose of Building and Plumbing Regulation Bylaw No.1617, 2002 is to regulate construction within Whistler. Applications for any permits required under this bylaw shall be consistent with its procedures, fees and forms.
Whistler’s building and plumbing regulation bylaw was amended to permit homeowners to legitimize illegally developed crawlspace or basement areas. The amending bylaw includes the creation of a process and an Occupancy Permit – Limited Building Inspections specifically for owners of illegal spaces applying for legitimization of construction concealed without appropriate inspections.
Why should I apply for a building permit to legitimize an existing illegal space in a detached or duplex dwelling?
Any space, which has been developed without building permits, may present safety, liability, or insurance risks. It is the responsibility of the property owner to resolve these issues.
When homeowners apply for a building permit and submit required building plans to legitimize an illegal crawlspace, a building inspector will inspect the space for compliance with provincial and municipal regulations, including the BC Building Code and municipal zoning bylaw. The overall result will be to legitimize more useable space in a home, which may provide peace of mind for owners and add value, when a property is sold.
How can I apply for a building permit to legitimize an illegal space in a detached or duplex dwelling?
Complete the following steps:
- Download the Residential Renovation Application Checklist at whistler.ca/building-permits.
- Complete the checklist and submit relevant plans to the building department, including:
- Floor plans
- Section drawings**
- Elevation drawings complete with the average grade line detailed.
- Area overlays of excluded floor area and gross floor are
- Value of construction (include the value of any excavation, foundation work, structural upgrades)
** For existing spaces, developed without a building permit, approach the design drawings, as if the space had never been developed.
- Building department staff will review the plans for BC Building Code, municipal zoning, and bylaw conformance.
- Once all application requirements, plan review, and payment of building permit fees are complete, a building permit will be issued.
- A building inspection by a municipal building inspector will be required once the building permit has been issued. With your building permit in hand, contact the RMOW building department at 604-935-8150 to book the inspection (48 hours’ notice is required).
- The municipal building inspector will meet you on site to review your alterations or renovations and to provide a written list of any deficiencies that may be discovered.
- If deficiencies are discovered, it is your responsibility to resolve them and to book a follow-up inspection.
- In instances where critical construction requiring an inspection has been covered over, and cannot be inspected, the inspector will not approve the work, but will undertake a safety inspection per Building and Plumbing Regulation Amendment No. 2007.
- If no deficiencies are discovered during the building inspection or noted deficiencies are corrected, the inspector will record it on his inspection report and a regular occupancy permit will be processed. Processing may take several weeks.
- Properties that received a safety inspection only will be issued an “Occupancy Permit - Limited Building Inspections.” This will provide closure to the building file.
- For questions about the zoning amendment bylaw and building and plumbing regulation amendment bylaw, and how they affect developing new space or legitimizing existing space in your home, contact:
RMOW Building Department
- For questions about the land use procedures bylaw and covenant modifications or land use contract amendments and how they affect developing new space or legitimizing existing space in your home, contact:
RMOW Planning Department
Addressing the illegal space issue was one of the key deliverables included in the 2012-2014 Council Action Plan.
On December 20, 2011, council established the Illegal Space Task Force (ISTF) to address the issue of illegal space constructed in homes throughout the municipality.
On February 7, 2012, council endorsed the task force to prepare a blanket zoning amendment bylaw, which included a newly defined portion of floor area (in-ground basement area) to be excluded from gross floor area definition in all RS and RT zones, as part of a two year pilot project, and to create a public consultation process for feedback on this proposal.
On March 2, 2012, the RMOW held an open house to obtain feedback on the proposed changes to residential regulations. More than 100 people attended the open house and the RMOW received feedback from approximately 40 respondents online. Feedback from the open house was presented to council at their March 20, 2012 council meeting.
Three bylaws were subsequently developed and adopted by council to address the illegal space issue as outlined above.