Crawlspace bylaws a 'good first step' 

New bylaws legitimize crawlspaces, address many issues around non-conforming space

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Bob Deeks of RDC Fine Homes can't remember the exact date Whistler homebuilders started to lobby the municipality for changes to municipal bylaws to address the issue of non-conforming space, but he remembers conversations as long ago as 2004. Understandably, he was thrilled last week when the municipality announced new bylaws that would legitimize illegal crawlspaces in single family and duplex homes in Whistler through an application process, though he cautioned that it was only a first step.

"Though this addresses a certain amount of space that's non-conforming (to bylaws) there's still an enormous amount of built space that this will not capture," said Deeks. "It has not closed the loopholes that allow people to exceed the Gross Floor Area (GFA) calculation and building non-conforming space."

Deeks gave high marks to the current council and staff for heeding some of the recommendations of the Illegal Space Task Force, adding some certainty to contractors, homeowners and real estate agents that have to deal with issues of non-conforming space.

"Many homeowners may have no idea that their home is at risk," said Mayor Nancy Wilhelm-Morden in announcing the bylaws, which have yet to pass council.

The bylaws cover crawlspaces in the basement level of homes that were included without building permits or inspections because they would have exceeded the maximum GFA for the home — a measurement of square metres of floor space determined by the size of the lot and other development considerations like restrictions on roof heights. Including crawlspace area reduces the allowable square footage for the rest of the home.

Of especial concern are overheight crawlspaces, which are used by some as finished basements although they exceed the GFA and could be considered unsafe by not conforming to the BC Building Code's requirements for fire safety.

The new bylaws will effectively remove crawlspace areas from the GFA, allowing homeowners to include them in their plans for new construction without affecting the overall space. As well, homeowners can get permits to cover existing crawlspaces to make them legal. The process, including fees and inspections, is online at www.whistler.ca/building-permits.

"I hope that homeowners seize the opportunity to apply for build permits to legitimize existing crawlspaces," said Wilhelm-Morden in a press release. "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."

However, while there are plans to extend the bylaw to include multifamily dwellings as well, Deeks says the bylaws do not resolve all of the issues related to non-conforming space. Crawlspaces are only one example of non-conforming space within homes, he said; other examples include people finishing attic spaces, adding floorspace under rooflines or adding floors in areas where the original design called for high ceilings.

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