Secondary suites provide badly-needed housing

For landlords and tenants, back to school housing crunch make for tense relationships

By Kyle Slavin – Saanich News

Demand is down, but that doesn’t mean the University of Victoria needs fewer dorm rooms on campus.

“If we had another building we would fill it. People like to live on campus because it’s so convenient,” said Kathryn MacLeod, director of residence services at UVic. “I don’t think we’re in the danger of not needing more … It would be great to have more residences.”

At this time last year, there were more than 1,400 people on a waitlist for student housing.

But last week – just days before the semester started – there were only 179 people waiting for a bed.

MacLeod attributes that to better information given to returning students, telling them their chances of securing on-campus housing are slim.

And with a slightly higher number of students at the school this year, more will be living in apartments and basement suites in the community.

Rob Hanzek, who rents out the lower level of his home in Gordon Head, reminds landlords to ensure they have a very clear tenancy agreement in place and know their rights if they end up having to deal with “slum” tenants.

Last year, he said, he rented his suite to two students who held loud parties that repeatedly drew the ire of neighbours and police, and damaged his home before moving out.

“I thought I was being diligent the first time around. I spoke to their previous landlords and I did all of the due diligence that I normally do with any tenant, and there weren’t any flags that came up,” Hanzek said.

When he tried to give a 30-day notice to end their tenancy, the students disputed it and stayed another 30 days in his home.

A spokesperson with the Ministry of Housing and Social Development, which includes the Residential Tenancy Branch, says disputes are common. The best way to avoid them is through landlord-tenant co-operation.

Both parties have extensive responsibilities and rights to ensure the others’ are protected.

Saanich is currently looking at legalizing secondary suites, which aims to give renters and landlords another level of comfort and security. Since secondary suites have already existed, legalizing them would allow for better enforcement, said Saanich Coun. Dean Murdock.

“What I think it would do is improve the living conditions …” he said.

“It’ll allow Saanich to evaluate whether or not those suites provide the standard of living, that they conform to the building code, that they are appropriate for inhabitants.

“Permitting secondary suites is an effective way for council to bring some organization to a rather chaotic situation.”

Hanzek encourages both landlords and tenants to brush up on the Residential Tenancy Act so they aren’t put in a sticky situation long after the fact.

“I’m renting (my suite) out again and I fortunately found tenants whose parents were very involved in their pursuit of a location, so I have a good rapport,” he said. “But I always have it in the back of my mind that it could happen again, there’s no question about that.”