Are Secondary Suites Legal in Your Area?

The City of Kelowna in BC recently approved a new process for secondary suites in single-family homes. The new process makes it easier and cheaper for homeowners to build legal secondary suites in the hopes that it will provide more affordable housing in the city.

What's a secondary suite? It's a private, self-contained unit in an existing home. Also known as "mortgage helpers" or "in-law suites", this type of housing is known to be one of the most cost-effective ways of providing affordable rental units in the housing market. According to a recent article in the Vancouver Sun, about a quarter of BC residents rent out a secondary suite in their home.

Secondary suites continue to be a selling point in single-family home listings. The idea of having someone else contributing to the cost of your homeownership is pretty nice. The extra income can help pay for your mortgage or extra bills. It may even help you afford the dream home you've been eyeing.

Keep in mind that just because a home has a secondary suite, doesn't mean it's always legal. Some municipalities allow secondary suites in all single-family homes. Others only allow suites in certain zoning areas. Yet others are still reviewing their by-laws and standards to see if updates need to be made. Check with your local government to make sure secondary suites are allowed in the area and what building codes you must meet to have a secondary suite in your home.

If you operate an illegal suite, you may be liable for some hefty costs if your local government clamps down. You may be asked to:

  • Complete any necessary repairs to meet building codes
  • Convert the property back to a single-family home
  • Terminate tenancy
    • If you have to terminate tenancy, you may also be responsible for your tenants moving costs and out-of-pocket expenses
  • Face charges under a municipal by-law

If you don't notify your insurance company of a secondary suite in your home, you may not be covered if anything happens. Double check with your insurance company to ensure that you are properly covered (even if your tenants have rental insurance).

When done right, a secondary suite can be a huge mortgage helper for homeowners. Just make sure you do your research to see if this option is right for you.

1 Comment

  1. Joan McGuigan 10/21/2012 at 11:40 AM

    Could you tell me about Montreal Quebec? are secondary suites legal here? thank you, Joan

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