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Safety of second unit tenants under scrutiny at city council

Director of engineering Rod Bovay speaks to Belleville city council about second units. Photo by Casey Horn, QNet News.

By Casey Horn [1]

Staff at the city of Belleville are recommending that the city develop a policy on second units in existing homes.

Second units [2] or duplexes are apartments containing their own kitchen and bathroom and rented out separately from the main part of a house or building. Director of engineering Rod Bovay says they are trying to get a jump on forming a policy before the province pushes them to get it done.

A lot of it depends on what the province says we can do, whether they want to set the rules or whether they want to let the cities make those decisions.”

Back in the 90s, second units were legal for about 18 months under one provincial government. Bovay says that it appears the province is moving in a similar direction now.

What the city is most concerned about is how they can be built safely for all tenants. Regardless of the new policies, owners will still have to comply with the Ontario fire [3] and building [4] codes.

Senior fire prevention officer John Lake says that residents being able to escape during a fire is key. “Ninety percent of the concern is about egress, making sure those people can get out in an emergency.  We want to be sure that if there’s a fire downstairs, these people will be able to get out upstairs.” According to Lake, many of the illegal duplexes in the city do not meet the standards for the fire code.

Bovay agrees, saying there are likely a “huge number of illegal ones that people would be renting out to tenants, whether they be to students or what have you,” and added that there are several penalties a homeowner could face if an illegal duplex is found.

If we get a complaint that there’s an illegal second unit we can order the owner to remove it. People can also be charged if they are violating bylaws, fire or building codes.”

There will be more discussion at council moving forward as the city examines how existing bylaws will need to change to accommodate the need for more second units.