Ottawa homeowners experience ‘granny flats’ nightmare

Ottawa homeowners experience ‘granny flats’ nightmare
In Waterloo, the regional government is going one-step further and offering a $25,000 loan to homeowners to build secondary suites.

Some Ottawa homeowners are stuck in legal limbo after a builder of “granny flats” or coach homes, left them with half-finished buildings in their back yards.

The company, called Coach Homes of Ottawa, has suspended operations after it realized that it may have “underestimated the time it would take to build the homes,” said Bill Kerr, general manager, who spoke with CBC News.

In that case, the tiny suites of five families were left is such a state of disrepair during botched construction that some may never be fully built.

The city decided in 2016 that it would be good idea to allow homeowners to add such small buildings to existing properties, in a densification push. But what about other cities? Is this a common practice?

A similar idea, laneway houses, was recently approved in Toronto (but only in the City of Toronto and East York). Vancouver gave thumbs up to the idea back in 2009. But what is a laneway home?

“A laneway suite is a small residence, detached from the primary home, at the back of the property or lot. All the mechanical services and utilities are connected and shared with the main house,” said Toronto urban planning expert Sean Galbraith of Galbraith and Associates in an interview posted on

However, cities still exert a lot of control and red tape over them, he said, so for homeowners looking to make a quick sell, slow down! “The official plan and zoning strongly discourages a lot severance, and the city will fight hard against it. Laneway suites are designed to create rental suites in areas desperately in need of them, not to create saleable units,” Galbraith said.

But the opposite is happening in Vancouver as the city made construction approval easier in 2018. City council cut down approval time by 65 per cent to as little as 12 weeks, according to DailyHive.

“According to the municipal government, ever since the laneway home program was approved in 2009, over 3,300 permits for such structures have been issued. The City’s statistics indicate 90 per cent of laneway homes are built in conjunction with a new house, 45 per cent of all new single-family homes are built with a laneway home, only 10 per cent of laneway homes are a single storey, and 60 per cent of recent laneway homes have one parking space.”

And one enterprising entrepreneur even offered the chance to get a free home built, but only if you let him rent it out for 12 years!

“It’s a crazy idea, but I think I can make it work. If I can get someone’s backyard for 12 years, I can profitably build a laneway house, rent it out for 12 years, and then give it back to the person that owns the property,” said Duane Laird to CTV News.

In Waterloo, the regional government is going one-step further and offering a $25,000 loan to homeowners to build secondary suites.

“It’s called a forgivable loan; we enter into an agreement for 15 years. And that loan declines over the 15 years. So after the 15 years, it’s completely forgiven. We set the starting rent, and it varies by the number of bedrooms. It helps the low-income homeowners, and it also creates new affordable rental housing,” said Jeff Schumacher, supervisor housing supply initiatives at Region of Waterloo to The Observer.

If you are thinking about having your own coach home or granny flat built in your backyard, better to consult the experts, including a lawyer, before diving in. It might be the best-ever idea and help you keep your aging relatives close, but it could end up as a nightmare.

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