Whistler adopts bylaws to permit homeowners to legitimize crawlspaces in single family and duplex homes
September 13, 2012: Whistler, BC – Homeowners in Whistler now have the opportunity to legitimize illegal spaces in single family and duplex dwellings following the recent adoption of three building and development-oriented amendment bylaws by Whistler council.
The bylaws were developed as a result of the work of the council-appointed Illegal Space Task Force to address the long-standing issue of illegal construction and use of crawlspaces in Whistler homes. The prevalence of illegal spaces in Whistler has 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 property owners and tenants.
“Many homeowners may have no idea that their home is at risk,” said Mayor Nancy Wilhelm-Morden. “Through this initiative people can have their spaces inspected and address safety, insurance, and liability issues.”
Many crawlspaces in the community are considered to be “illegal” because they were constructed without building permits or required inspections by a municipal building inspector. In some cases building permits were not obtained at the time of construction, because the crawlspaces would have added to the total floor area of the home and exceeded the maximum allowable Gross Floor Area (GFA), as regulated by the municipal zoning bylaw or a covenant or land use contract.
The zoning amendment bylaw now permits basement floor areas* (crawlspaces) to be excluded from the calculation of GFA for all detached (single family) and duplex dwellings in Whistler. What this means is that a basement or crawlspace (which would have been included in the total GFA for the property, in the past), can now be excluded from the GFA calculation. The basement floor area is defined as a minimum of one metre below the average level of the finished ground of the exterior walls of the building. The maximum area that may be excluded is 125 per cent of the floor area of the story immediately above.
Other over height crawlspaces are considered to be illegal because they have been used as basements or livable areas in a house, when that use is not permitted. In some cases, these crawl spaces were excluded from the GFA calculation (so the total GFA for the house would not exceed the maximum allowable GFA) as long as the owner registered a covenant stating that the space would not be used for any purpose. After an occupancy permit was issued, many of these over height crawlspaces were finished and then occupied. Again, some property owners and tenants may not be aware that basements or crawlspaces that they are using are illegal and potentially unsafe.
In summary, three amendment bylaws now enable homeowners to legitimize illegal crawlspaces:
- Zoning Amendment Bylaw No.1992, 2012: The zoning amendment bylaw removes the ability to construct over height crawl spaces and void spaces in all properties in the municipality, and instead defines a basement floor area, which can be excluded from GFA calculations.
- Land Use Procedures and Fees Amendment Bylaw, No.2008, 2012: The land use procedures and fees amendment bylaw establishes a procedure and fee structure for covenant modifications to provide GFA exclusions for crawlspaces in detached and duplex dwellings, in situations in which a covenant (rather than the zoning bylaw) limits the GFA. In this case, a property owner can apply for a covenant modification, and then a building permit, after which inspections will be scheduled and an occupancy permit may be issued.
- Building and Plumbing Regulation Amendment Bylaw No. 2007, 2012: The building and plumbing regulation amendment bylaw establishes a process and permit for building inspectors to perform life safety inspections in cases when an illegal crawlspace exists and construction has been concealed. Normally, if there are no deficiencies noted during the final inspection of a building, the municipal building inspector will issue an occupancy permit. In cases where a building permit is issued to legitimize an illegal crawlspace and construction has been concealed, a building inspector may perform a safety inspection only and issue an “Occupancy Permit – Limited Building Inspections,” to close the building permit file.
Mayor Nancy Wilhelm-Morden commended staff and the council-appointed Illegal Space Task Force on their expedient work to address the issue of illegal space in Whistler - something that was identified as a council priority in the 2012-2014 Council Action Plan. She said, “I am happy that we have moved forward to resolve this widespread issue in Whistler. I hope that homeowners seize the opportunity to apply for build permits to legitimize existing crawlspaces.”
She added, “I have been informed by staff that contractors have already been taking advantage of this opportunity to apply for building permits for new construction, including developed crawlspaces. The new regulations will remove uncertainty for homeowners, contractors, designers, and realtors, and help to ensure that crawlspaces are constructed legally with appropriate safety inspections along the way.”
How to apply for a building permit to legitimize an illegal crawlspace
Homeowners and contractors can now apply for building permits for new construction, including crawlspaces, or building permits for existing illegal crawlspaces following these steps:
- Download a residential building permit application for new construction, or residential renovation application for existing crawlspaces at whistler.ca/building-permits.
- Complete the application and submit relevant plans to the building department.
- Pay building permit fees.
- Book inspections and resolve any deficiencies, as needed.
Read more about this process at whistler.ca/illegal spaces.
In cases where a covenant or land use contract restricts the GFA of a property, a covenant modification or land use contract amendment is required before applying for a building permit. Contact the planning department at 604-935-8170 or email firstname.lastname@example.org for more information.
- Download an information sheet about legitimizing illegal spaces.
- For building permit inquiries, visit www.whistler.ca/building-permits, phone 604-935-8150, or email email@example.com.