What’s a laneway house?

smallworks home

One of Smallworks' laneway home designs, "The Edwardian"

These mini-homes are built into pre-existing lots, usually in the backyard and opening onto the back lane or side street.  Their size can range from 550 to 750 square feet, usually 1½ storeys, with one or two bedrooms.Typical regulations require that the laneway home is built in the back half of a standard lot in the space that one would normally find a garage.

A couple of years ago, the City of Vancouver (during mayor Sam Sullivan’s term) introduced the idea of laneway housing  to increase the density in pre-existing neighborhoods while retaining the single-family feel of the neighborhood. This “eco-density” movement was originally thought to provide housing for the baby-boomer generation as they grew older and wanted smaller dwellings. Their children could then live in the larger main house and be nearby, or the home would be rented for extra income.

Since the laneway house concept has taken off, the baby boomers have not actually been the top clients. Their children have. Vancouver has the highest property values in Canada (three times as much as the average), but wages are no higher than the average city. That leaves late 20s- 30s year old people with very few options in home ownership. If they’re lucky, they’ll inherit money or a home from their parents or grandparents. Or, their parents will offer up their back yard for a laneway house. This is win-win for everyone.. the kids get a nice starter home and free babysitters across the yard, and the parents have their kids close by. If everyone gets along, it’s pretty much perfect.

The city has been careful with keeping by-laws strict enough to prevent abuse from developers, but flexible enough to create a really appealing dwelling that fits in with the neighbourhood. Of course, there are always going to be people who find loop holes or just disregard their neighbours unfortunately, but so far there have been many successes in the laneway concept, and hopefully it will continue to grow in a positive way.

4 Comments on “What’s a laneway house?”

  1. Jessica says:

    Just wondering if lane way houses can have different paperwork… (ex. your parents own their house and you own yours? or you have to have EVERYTHING OFFICIALLY owned by your parents…?)

  2. scottania says:

    Hi Jessica,

    Technically the property will be fully owned by my parents, but we will gradually own a share of it as we pay off the loan for the house. We have a written agreement between us and my parents that outlines our arrangement when it comes to property value and what Scott and I will be contributing to it as we pay off the loan. As you pay off the laneway, you own more of a share of the property. The laneway adds value to the property so it works for both my parents and us.

    From what I know of other people in a similar situation, this is also what they’re doing, since the city considers it one piece of property and you can’t divide the lot for the laneway under current zoning restrictions. You can get your own loan to pay for the house, so you’re still developing your credit rating even though the property is owned by your parents. In our case my parents took out an equity loan and we are paying it back. Vancity Credit Union has a specific loan for laneway house construction now which is pretty cool. I’m sure some other banks will follow suit soon.

    It’s an interesting arrangement for sure – not your standard home ownership situation but if everything is documented clearly it works out well. You definitely have to have a good relationship with your parents but that goes without saying if you’re building a house 16 feet away from them haha.

  3. While the city is insisting that these houses be rental, and not strata titled or sold off, I believe that in the future, once the design criteria are more firmly established, it would be desirable if laneway housing could be subdivided by bare land stata and sold off.

    As an aside, I am doing a project in West Vancouver called Hollyburn Mews where 1200 sq.ft. plus basement laneway houses are being sold, as part of a strata development.

  4. scottania says:

    Yes, it could be that it becomes normal for them to be subdivided. On the one hand I sort of like the idea of keeping the laneway homes as part of the original property, but it doesn’t seem like a good long term solution to population increase in the city. That’s interesting about the Hollyburn Mews. Those are decent sized laneway homes!

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