In light of the recent pandemic, many folks are looking for ways to make some extra money, and in the Calgary area, there is none better than operating a secondary suite. 

A secondary suite, which is also referred to as a basement suite or granny suite, is a living area that is a stand-alone space located on the same property as the main house. It has, of course, its own entrance, cooking area, bedroom, and bathing facilities, but it must be smaller than 70 m sq or 750 ft sq. 

Structurally, the basement of your house is the foundation of your home, but in reality, it often has the least amount of attention or thought.  There is so much potential within your basement.  This area can provide extra living space or even help you earn money if you turn it into a secondary suite and rent it out to a tenant.  In fact, doing so can even add to your home’s equity for future resale.

If part of the process of you buying your home is that you have the idea of a secondary suite in mind, then it’s crucial to educate yourself on all of the legal requirements for a secondary suite in the City of Calgary. This will ensure the safety of both the tenant and yourself in addition to the suite’s validity.

SECONDARY SUITES CALGARY

The legal definition of a secondary suite is as follows: a dwelling unit contained within the primary residence, such as a basement or Grandma Suite. You must also list it with the secondary suite registry in the City of Calgary.

These types of suites are ideal for some tenants and, at the same time, bring much-needed additional income for their landlords. This type of situation gives the tenant the benefits of living in a residential situation complete with a backyard while also being close to schools and parks. 

The best way to handle this situation is to have a written agreement in the form of a lease which spells out all the important issues you’ve discussed in advance and that both you and your tenant have signed. There are important rights and responsibilities as the landlord that you should be aware of before you make the decision to rent out your suite. 

Certainly, one of the largest benefits of having a secondary suite is the income you can make from renting out the suite regularly. The money from this will help offset mortgage and other expenses as well as potentially adding to the resale value of your home.

There are, of course, lots of things to consider when deciding to move forward with a secondary suite. Even if you have the basement area, and even if it’s been converted over, it’s still not necessarily legal because there are a few regulations you have to take into account.

BASEMENT DEVELOPMENT CALGARY

At the current time, the registry of legal suites in Calgary has approximately 1,500 units that are registered. There is a general estimate that the city’s illegal secondary suites stand at approximately 16,000. The main reason for this is that until recently, to get approved for the legalization of a secondary suite, the process was extremely complicated. However, in the year 2018, the Calgary City Council created an amendment to the Land Use By-Law that allows applicants to apply for a development permit at the first step in building a secondary suite.

As of the new bylaws, which went into effect in June of 2020, any secondary suite unit will need to include a separate heat source like a furnace and comply with new exterior stair specifications. There are also other specific things that must be in place as

Click here if you want to learn more about how we could assist with your basement development

The good news is that thanks to the new Amendment, the process for having your basement suite registered as a legal suite has never been easier. Anyone can do it.

WHAT MAKES A LEGAL BASEMENT SUITE

To begin with, any suite which is built without permits in the area of the city where secondary suites are not permitted is automatically considered an illegal suite. It’s vital that your secondary suite is built in complete compliance with all the rules and that you have the proper permits to be considered an illegal secondary suite. The most important thing is that your construction and design must meet the most current regulations. 

Windows are required in each bedroom, and they must be able to be opened from the inside without the use of any special tools or keys. Each secondary suite must also have smoke detectors and carbon monoxide detectors that are connected so that when one alarm goes off, they all go off. 

Another important requirement is that each suite must have at least one door that goes directly outside and that door must open swinging inward. 

LEGAL BASEMENT SUITE REQUIREMENTS

As noted, the secondary suite must have its own sleeping quarters, kitchen/cooking area, living, and bathroom areas as well. It cannot have shared areas such as the backyard, parking spaces, laundry, and storage areas.

The minimum floor-to-ceiling height must be 1.95 meters, the only exceptions being doorways which can go to 1.89 meters, and drop ceilings which can go to 1.85 meters. This is only to allow for ductwork and beams when necessary. 

Another important factor is that the secondary suite must have its own kitchen sink and an entire full bathroom equipped with a sink, toilet, and bathtub or shower stall. There must also be a supply of hot water available just to the secondary suite. A shared boiler is acceptable, but there must be separate Zone controls for the secondary suite and the main residence. Another little-known but important requirement is that there must be a branched chain on a sanitary sewer line with a backflow prevention device.

By being aware of these requirements in advance, you can create a budget to have these modifications made well ahead of time of buying a new home if that’s your goal. 

Creating a secondary suite is a great way to offset the cost of your mortgage and put extra money in your pocket every month, and thanks to the reforms of 2018, making sure your suite meets all the city’s requirements is easier than ever before.

If you approach a lender about a mortgage, a house that includes a legal secondary suite will dramatically increase your buying power because the lender will consider the gross rental income for future rentals as part of your total annual income upon looking over your application.

Think about this hypothetical example: 

If your household income was $100,000 before taxes, your non-household expenses were around $2,000 per month, and you were prepared to make a down payment of $30,000, with an interest rate of 2.40%, you may be able to afford a home priced up to $368,599. 

However, considering the same circumstance but increasing your household income by $12,000 from a secondary suite rented out for $1000/month, you may be able to afford a home priced up to $463,407. Once you include that rental suite income, you can increase your buying power by about $94,000. 

If you are thinking about buying a $420,000 single-family home in Calgary, with a $30,000 down payment, 25-year amortization, 5-year term, and an interest rate of 2.40%, you can expect to pay about $1,725 each month in mortgage payments. Now consider the savings of having a tenant in a legal secondary suite: depending on amenities and square footage, you could rent a legal secondary suite in SE Calgary for $900-$1300 per month, covering at least half of your monthly mortgage payment.

Make sure you register with the city of Calgary and get your permits, and once your conversion is complete, you can be on your way to a very nice extra income while also increasing the value of your home. Converting your basement into a secondary suite might be one of the very best financial decisions and long-term investments you have ever made.

While it’s true that there are some important specifications you need to consider when going with a secondary suite, as you can see, it has many substantial benefits that cannot be ignored. Financially, it’s an absolutely fantastic move, and as long as you are clear on the rules and spell them out clearly in the lease agreement, you should be a great win-win for everyone involved.