Gentle densification: Laneway houses and secondary suites now permitted in Burnaby

Sep 16 2023, 2:36 am

The City of Burnaby has gained a new gentle densification housing typology for its single-family neighbourhoods.

Just like its neighbour of Vancouver, laneway houses and secondary suites within semi-detached houses are now permitted in Burnaby, with the municipal government’s application intake starting on September 18, 2023.

“This is a significant step forward for our efforts to add housing to Burnaby, while also preserving the local character that the people living in our single-family neighbourhoods love about where they live,” said Burnaby mayor Mike Hurley in a statement.

This follows Burnaby City Council’s approval of the policy framework and regulations earlier this year.

The single-family detached houses must be located within an eligible single-family zoning district, with a laneway fronting its backyard or the side of the property. Currently, about 20,000 lots in Burnaby qualify under these requirements, but this typology could be further expanded next year to lots without such rear roadway frontages.

Burnaby’s municipal government is currently in the process of exploring further gentle densification policies beyond the approved typology of laneway houses and secondary suites, including triplexes, fourplexes, and cottage courts, which are not entirely dissimilar to the City of Vancouver’s newly approved Missing Middle multiplex policy. But an eventual phase of policy planning will go even further to enable rowhouses/townhouses and low-storey apartment buildings.

This fall, the provincial government is expected to provide more details on its policy enabling up to four units on single-family lots across the province, overriding municipal governments.

Laneway houses

Under the new municipal policy, for Burnaby’s laneway house scenario, up to three units may be permitted on a lot, including the primary residence and secondary suite within the detached house, and the laneway house.

The maximum height for a laneway house is up to two storeys, with a real limit of 25 ft for a sloping roof and 22 ft for a flat roof.

The maximum floor area for a laneway house is up to 20% of the lot area, but no larger than 1,507 sq ft. The minimum floor area for such a structure is 350 sq ft. These floor area calculations do not include an attached carport, garage, shed, workshop and/or locker to the laneway house.

Furthermore, the minimum separation distance between the lot’s main detached house and the laneway house is 7.87 ft. Both structures combined can only cover up to 45% of the lot’s area, with a further 70% maximum for impervious surfaces.

At least one vehicle parking space is required on the property, which must be uncovered or in a carport.

In terms of how the laneway house can be used in Burnaby, it must remain under a single title — it cannot be stratified or sold separately from the primary residence. It can be used for long-term rentals, but not short-term rentals like Airbnb.

According to local builder Home Wealth Construction, as of earlier this year, laneway house construction costs in Vancouver are typically between $300,000 and $350,000 for a baseline structure.

vancouver laneway house approvals

Annual laneway house approvals in Vancouver. (City of Vancouver)

Earlier this year, during the City of Vancouver’s public consultation on enabling multiplexes of up to six strata ownership units or eight secured rental units on a single-family lot, it was noted that Vancouver now has a population of over 5,000 laneway houses.

Laneway houses were first permitted in Vancouver in 2009. Vancouver saw 435 laneway house approvals in 2022 alone, and the single-year record was 2018 when there were over 700 approvals.

Vancouver has a 10-year target to catalyze 4,000 new laneway houses between 2017 and 2028.

Secondary suites in the main house

Up to four secondary suites may be permitted on an eligible single-family lot in Burnaby, based on zoning district.

A lot must have a minimum size of 6,000 sq ft and a minimum width of 49.2 ft in R4, R5, R6 or RM6 zoning districts, and minimums of 3,300 sq ft and 30 ft on lots with a laneway or 3,300 sq ft and 45 ft on lots without laneways in R12 zoning district.

Semi-detached structures with a secondary suite other than a ground-level suite can reach up to two storeys with a basement, with real limitations of 29.5 ft in height for a sloping roof or 7.4 ft for a flat roof. For a structure with a ground-level suite, two storeys with a ground level suite are permitted, reaching up to 34.4 ft for a sloping roof or 29.2 ft for a flat roof.

While a minimum floor area has been established at 350 sq ft, there is no maximum floor area, but it must fall within various constraints relating to the configuration of the secondary suite.

Two vehicle parking spaces must be made available on the lot.

A semi-detached home, a duplex, may be stratified into two primary units, with each side sold separately. But a secondary suite cannot be sold separately from the primary unit. Moreover, similar to laneway houses, such units can be used as long-term rentals, but not short-term rentals.

Vancouver first permitted secondary suites for all single-family zoning districts in 2004, which are typically configured as basement units or on the ground level of a single-family detached house. The vast majority of new single-family detached houses in Vancouver now have a secondary suite, usually in the basement. But it is also known that there is also a common practice of having illegal suites, such as basements divided into two suites.

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