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Garden Suites: An Innovative Option for Canadians

Written by Posted On Tuesday, 14 September 1999 00:00

Canadian laws have regulated Canadians into "thinking inside the box" when it comes to their homes. Innovation is often restricted by "housing rules" which include ‘larger is better' and ‘one house per lot is best.' Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation, the federal housing agency, promotes ‘thinking outside the box' that breaks through these rules to embrace innovations such as garden suites—small, self-contained homes added to the lot of an existing single-family house.

Garden suites combine care giving and independence-enabling features in one solution to the varied housing challenges that face our growing population of senior citizens and their families. This type of housing gives each elderly resident the best of both worlds: the privacy and independence of having one's own home combined with the companionship and peace of mind gained by having caring family members close at hand.

This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. , president of Oshawa-based Garden Units Leasing Ltd., sees growing demand, largely as a reaction to the cost of retirement housing: "Today, we are all seeking lower taxes which means less public funding directed towards eldercare. Eight-five percent of eldercare is in the care component not the accommodation. If the family looks after their grandparents at no cost other than mutual love and affection, this is a huge amount of money saved."

Garden suites, originally known as granny flats and frequently called care units, allow elderly individuals and couples to remain on their own property, or that of a family-member. Additional benefits include elimination of the stresses of isolation and relocation. Garden suites are not apartments but temporary (portable or prefabricated) one-storey, basement-less, one or two bedroom homes added to an existing property to house elderly and/or disabled people who wish to live independently but may need some help to do so.

Although this housing option is a proven retirement-housing alternative in Australia, local Canadian municipal governments have given garden suites a cool reception. Those interested in having a garden suite often find their plans altered, delayed or aborted by municipal zoning bylaws, which regulate land use and building standards on a property by property basis. Gillberry says that municipalities nervous of garden suites are concerned that the unit would be used to house the non-elderly, potentially straining on-street parking and school systems. He feels the solution is not individually purchased or built garden suites but leased units.

"These care units should be regarded as an article which you hire from a local rental," said Gillberry. "When the care unit has fulfilled its specific function, you return this piece of equipment to the rental agency. The business opportunity lies in the sheer number of people interested."

Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation's 1989 national garden suite demonstration led to government projections of 213,000 families potentially interested in a garden suite.

Variations on the garden-suite concept, for elderly individuals or couples, include:

  • A retired homeowner retaining ownership of the property, moving into a garden suite and letting family members "blood-related or extended" take over the main house;
  • A retired homeowner selling or giving the property to a family member or members with the provision that the retiree may live in a garden suite on the property;
  • A retiree moving into a unit on a family members property;
  • A retiree and family members jointly buying a property, perhaps a recreational property, with the agreement that the retiree would have a garden suite and the others would use the house or cottage;
  • A grandchild affording a house by hosting a grandparent's garden suite in exchange for financing.

More Canadian Topics:

  • British Columbia's Leaky Condos
  • Ontario's Tenant Protection Act
  • Canadian Housing: Affordability On The Rebound
  • Technology Reinvents Canada's Real Estate Boards
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