One solution to crowded family living: a yurt

Inside of a yurt, showing the lattice and pole structure. Photo by Sabine van Erp, Creative Commons

A New Westminster resident is trying to convince her local council to let her install a different kind of housing in her backyard to help make room for her large family: a pre-fab yurt.


After she retired from teaching, Treva Zilm downsized to a one-bedroom home in her native city. This small home on Osborne Ave. was the perfect size, until her family came home to roost.

Zilm’s situation is not unique. Multigenerational households are becoming the norm as millennials choose to stay home longer or return home to save money as rents and home prices in the Lower Mainland continue to climb. Many parents are ill-prepared to host adult children and their families in the homes they occupy in retirement. Some choose may add extensions to their property or help finance a small condo for their children. Others may opt not to downsize and ask children to help offset homeownership costs.

Zilm’s solution is unique.

Rather than move to a larger home, which is financially difficult, or build additions to her current unit, she wants to install a pre-fab yurt on her property that would become her main residence. She wants the house to become the primary home for her daughter and her family.

Yurts are tent-like structures. Its round structure is supported with wood lattices supported by posts and covered in cloth or fur. They are versatile structures, easy to assemble and adapt for different climates. Some are portable, others permanent. Given this flexibility, it is unclear what sections of the bylaws would apply to the installation of a yurt.


Since no one has ever asked to build and live permanently in a yurt before, the city has no precedent to respond to her request. In the Lower Mainland, several municipalities allow homeowners to build laneway or coach houses, to offset the rising costs of home ownership. However, cities in the region do not have the framework in place that might allow winterized tents or trailers on properties with single family houses.

Zilm’s request is a novel solution to a problem created by the region’s housing bubble. It is an economical solution, too. According to most contractors, the minimum cost to build a solid laneway property is about $350,000. A 450-square-foot yurt, fully winterized, would cost between $20,000 and $25,000, assembly not included.

Since it is not certain how a yurt fits with current zoning bylaw, the city will need to consider what section of the zoning bylaw apply to her request.

  • Section 310 of the city’s zoning bylaw (6680, 2001) outlines the uses and developments permitted for a single detached dwelling, the RS-1 zoning bylaws.  Sub-section 310.10 outlines the maximum allowable size and height and location of any accessory building.
  • Section 120 defines a secondary suite as a dwelling unit that is an accessory to a single detached dwelling.
  • Section 190 outlines the requirements for different rooms by use. (Interestingly, there is a restriction on how small a dwelling unit may be: no smaller than 500 square feet. I wonder how that is affecting condo development.) Studios, or bachelor suites may be 350 square feet, and hotel rooms: 270.

There is also a section on transitional housing units, if the primary housing unit is being renovated or if people are moving to more stable housing within 36 months, however Zilm said she wants to live there permanently.

The next step for Zilm is to speak with city planning staff to complete a proper request to install a yurt on her property.


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