Small-Scale Multi-Unit Housing

Bill 44 – Housing Statutes Amendment Act 2023 requires local governments to update zoning bylaws to allow Small-Scale Multi-Unit Housing (SSMUH) on any lots currently zoned for a single family home or duplex by June 30, 2024. The number of SSMUH that will be permitted on a lot varies with the lot size and location. Examples of SSMUH housing types could include, but are not limited to: 

  • Secondary suites in single-family dwellings or duplexes
  • Detached accessory dwelling units, like garden suites or laneway homes
  • Duplexes (side-by-side, back-to-back, or up/down)
  • Triplexes and house-plexes
  • Townhomes

SSMUH offers housing options that are ground-oriented and compatible in scale and form with established single- and two-family neighbourhoods. The following residential zoning changes are required to be adopted by municipalities across British Columbia:

  • Permitting  at least one secondary suite and/or accessory dwelling unit (e.g. carriage house, laneway home) in all single-residential zones. 
  • Permitting  a minimum 3 units on residential lots with an area less than 280m2 (3,014 sq. ft.).
  • Permitting a minimum 4 units on residential lots with an area greater than 280m2 (3,014 sq. ft.).
  • Permitting  a minimum 6 units on residential lots with an area greater than 280m2 (3,014 sq.ft.) within 400m of bus stops with frequent service (15 minutes or less).

The Province is requiring local governments to adopt the new SSMUH zoning regulations by June 30, 2024.

Increasing Housing Options

The City of Nanaimo launched the ‘Increasing Housing Options’ project in 2023 to look at various recommended changes aimed at making housing more attainable in Nanaimo. The recommendations are in response to City Plan - Nanaimo ReImagined, where we heard the community's desire to prioritize creating affordable housing. Feedback was sought on four proposed changes in September 2023: Expanding Secondary Suite Regulations; Expanding Infill Housing in Existing Neighbourhoods; Expanding Family-Friendly Housing Options; and Creating Adaptable Housing Units. 

Shortly after, the Province introduced the SSMU legislation, impacting ‘Increasing Housing Options’ project. Many aspects of the SSMUH regulations are similar to what the City has been exploring through ‘Increasing Housing Options’, with a notable difference being the extent of land considered for a change in zoning.  While the City had consulted with the public regarding strategic areas for pre-zoning (e.g. in proximity to transit and services), the Provincially-mandated SSMUH regulations will apply to all restricted zones within the city. For more information, refer to the May 6, 2024 Staff Report – Increasing Housing Options + Small-Scale Multi-Unit Housing.

Next Steps

Staff have reviewed the SSMUH legislation and its impacts on the ‘Increasing Housing Options’ project and have presented the proposed bylaw amendments at the May 6, 2024 Council Meeting. At the meeting, Council directed Staff to bring forward the draft Zoning Amendment Bylaw and draft Building Amendment Bylaw to the May 27, 2024 Council meeting for bylaw consideration. For more information, click on the “Progress” tab below. 

To see the properties proposed for pre-zoning, the proposed SSMUH zoning can be viewed on the interactive map.

Stay Up-To-Date

As the City works through the changes needed to comply with this initiative, we want to ensure Nanaimo residents and businesses are aware of the related impacts and how they will affect our community. Information on the upcoming changes and updates will be communicated to the community both in digital and print formats. These include: the City's website, social media platforms, e-notifications (e.g. My Nanaimo This Week), press releases, online information sessions, handout and tax notice newsletter. Stay tuned!

Frequently Asked Questions

Does Nanaimo have frequent services (15 minutes or less)?
No, there are currently no bus routes that operate in Nanaimo that meet the Province's definition of frequent service. 

Will this legislation legalize existing secondary suites built without a permit?
No. This legislation will allow secondary suites or accessory dwelling units to be built in all communities across BC. It will not legalize secondary suites which may have been built without a building permit. If a secondary suite is built without a building permit, property owners will have to work with their local government to bring it into compliance with the BC Building Code and other local government requirements.

Do existing covenants under section 219 still apply?
The SSMUH legislation does not affect existing covenants made under section 219 of the Land Title Act. However, local governments should not pursue new covenants that would prevent the prescribed residential densities required under the SSMUH legislation. Covenants can however still be requested for health, safety, and the protection of the natural environment.

Do phased Development Agreements (under Section 516 of the Local Government Act) supersede SSMUH requirements? A phased development agreement itself does not supersede the SSMUH requirements. Covenants, which are a common features of phased development agreements, could negate a zoning change made by a local government to implement SSMUH requirements. The application of the SSMUH legislation would also depend on whether the current zoning of the phased development meets the definition of a restricted zone under the legislation. Please seek advice from your lawyer where necessary. See page 24 (Land Title Act) of the Provincial Policy Manual & Site Standards for more details.

Can local governments ensure that large lots aren’t subdivided into very small parcels (further increasing density)?
Yes, local governments retain the ability to determine the minimum lot size for subdivision. New subdivision proposals would still need to be reviewed by an approving officer, who could ask for infrastructure upgrades as a condition of any approval (Land Title Act, sections 86 and 87, and LGA, section 506). New subdivision proposals can be denied by an approving officer based on concerns of lack of infrastructure and servicing capacity, or can require actions to be taken before an approval is granted. See pages 51-52 (Subdivision, lot sizes, and strata titling) of the Provincial Policy Manual for more information. 

Can local governments exempt areas due to geotechnical hazards, flood zones, etc.?
Yes. The Local Government Act and Community Charter have existing authorities, like development permits for municipalities to manage growth in and near hazardous and environmentally sensitive areas. As well, regulations which came into force on December 7 (Local Government Zoning Bylaw Regulation) establish further exemptions for areas from SSMUH:

1) Areas captured within a Transit-Oriented Area, as noted by Housing Statutes (Transit-Oriented Areas) Amendment Act, 2023, S.B.C. 2023, c. 48, are exempted from the three-, four- or six-unit requirements as the TOA regulation will allow higher densities of housing.

2) Land which is subject to:
a) hazardous conditions,

b) the threat or risk from the hazardous conditions would increase if the density permitted under this legislation is achieved, and
c) the hazardous condition cannot be practically mitigated.

In Nanaimo, lots impacted by the “North Slope Stability Study” area are proposed to be exempt due to hazardous conditions.  A copy of the study is available under the documents tab at the bottom of this page.

If a strata has their own on-site servicing for water and wastewater, which is not connected to the local government system, are they exempt from SSMUH legislation?
Land that is not connected to a water and sewer system provided as a service by a municipality or regional district is exempt from SSMUH requirements to permit, in zones which meet the definition of a restricted zone, a minimum of three to six units.

What if a property is in a service area for water and sewer but not connected to both services? What happens if a property later connects to both services?

Land must be connected to both water and sewer systems that are operated by a local government for the three to six unit density to be applied. Even if a property is within a service area, it must also be connected to both a water and a sewer system operated by a local government. If a property does later connect to both services, the zoning of the property may need to be updated to allow for three to six units.

If transit service changes in the future (i.e. bus stop is moved or service level adjusted) are municipalities required to update their zoning bylaw for which six units are permitted?

Yes, municipalities are expected to ensure their zoning bylaws are up to date and account for changes in transit routes and frequency.

Transit service is not static and changes over time and throughout the year. For seasonal changes to bus service, local governments should determine prescribed bus stops based on the lowest service level available throughout the year. Local governments are to use the transit service which is published at the time they are updating their zoning bylaws to meet the compliance deadline of June 30, 2024. As transit levels change in the future, local governments should ensure their zoning bylaws continue to align with provincial legislation.

Still Have Questions?

Provincial information on SSMUH can be found here as well as under the “Document” tab below. Questions about the Provincial legislation can be directed to the BC Planning and Land Use Management Branch email: Questions about the City of Nanaimo’s proposed zoning can be directed to the Current Planning Section email:



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