Whistler adopts bylaws to legitimize crawlspaces 

Homeowners encouraged to apply for building permits and to have spaces inspected

click to enlarge PHOTO BY CATHRYN ATKINSON

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 in a press release out today. "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.

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

"I am happy that we have moved forward to resolve this widespread issue in Whistler," said Wilhelm-Morden.

"I hope that homeowners seize the opportunity to apply for build permits to legitimize existing crawlspaces.

"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."

Homeowners and contractors can now apply for building permits for new construction, including crawlspaces, or building permits for existing illegal crawlspaces following these steps:

1.Download a residential building permit application for new construction, or residential renovation application for existing crawlspaces at whistler.ca/building-permits <http://www.whistler.ca/building-permits>; .

2. Complete the checklist and submit relevant plans to the building department.

3.Pay building permit fees.

4.Book inspections and resolve any deficiencies, as needed.

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