Perhaps the prospect of dealing with red tape has been holding back your home improvement plans? If so, you’ll be pleased to know that 2018 saw major upgrades to the way the City of Calgary deals with renovation, building and development permits for homeowners. A new online headquarters was launched in May that offers three major improvements over the City’s old system: permits can now be applied for online, a direct-chat function links homeowners to City staff and both the language and process for applications has been greatly simplified for clarity and to avoid redundancy.
The online applications have already seen a high rate of adoption, says Jennifer Crack, customer coordinator for homeowners at the City. “In the first month, we were looking at around 50 per cent of applications coming in online, and we did very little advertisement for the online application process,” she says. While noting that using calgary.ca/myhome is faster and more convenient for most, Crack knows some people prefer face-to-face interaction and welcomes them to apply in person at the Municipal Building. Those that prefer in-person help can also benefit from informational open houses held quarterly around the city by the Planning & Development department. Open houses are listed at calgary.ca/pdevents.
When planning a renovation, one major decision is whether to go the do-it-yourself route or hire a contractor. One upside of hiring a contractor is that they take on all the work of the permit process, but with that said, be sure to read the section on best practices on the City’s My Home web page before hiring someone. Tips include checking a contractor’s licence, insurance and references, as well as making sure to get your contract in writing rather than a verbal agreement. Unfortunately, Crack has had plenty of calls where customers got burned after not doing due diligence.
If you opt to handle your own renovation, you can head to calgary.ca/myhome and browse by the relevant section to your project type. Previously, the page for renovations was clogged with jargon and was challenging for the layperson to understand, but more accessible language has been added and sections are now titled intuitively. If you have questions, just open the chat function or call in to the customer service centre. Talking directly to a representative can have surprising advantages, with Crack saying that expert tips are offered based on your project’s specifications. For example: “One of the big ones is [when homeowners want to build a deck]. Half the time they submit a project that has a deck at maybe two and a half feet, but if they lowered their deck by six inches and it’s only at two feet, they don’t actually need a permit.”
Once the application is submitted, approval time varies based on the complexity of the project. However, the city staffer assigned to your application will update you throughout the process. In the past, sometimes information submitted on one form was asked for in needless duplication. “Now we actually just have one application that you fill out. You make one application and we’ll follow through to the next step,” says Crack.
Whether you are hiring a contractor or tackling the application process yourself, it’s clear that the City has made it a priority to take the stress out of the ordeal and to make its staff available. If this was the hurdle holding you back from tackling the project you’ve been dreaming of, you won’t be able to use it as an excuse any longer.