So You Want to Be a Landlord?

Courtesy of:


Jeffrey V. Kahane

Kahane Law Office


This fall, what is sure to be a hot-button issue in Calgary's municipal election is that of secondary suites. For the past several years, City Council has been divided on the issue. On one side, Mayor Nenshi and several councilors have taken the position that existing suites across the city should be grandfathered in to be legally zoned suites, provided they comply with proper building and fire codes. On the other side of the issue are those on council who have taken a not-in-my-backyard stance. This group prefers to adhere to the status quo of having illegal suites reported by neighbors, and inspectors/by-law enforcement officers dispatched to investigate, and possibly enforce compliance with zoning and building/fire codes.        

The stakeholders in the debate are diverse and anxiously engaged. Municipalities look to ensure compliance with zoning requirements and building codes while meeting the city's voracious demand for affordable housing, real estate investors seek to capitalize on a persistent need for rental accommodation, and home-owners consider the pros and cons of transforming their basements into accessory suites. While some will adhere to the guidelines set out by the city and province in creating a rentable space, others will avoid the guidelines and requirements, merely making the space livable.

Now, as the flood waters recede, advocates of secondary suites are again renewing their calls for grandfathering in existing illegal suites. They cite the low vacancy rate (hovering around 1%), the impending return of post-secondary students this month, and the fact that numerous apartment buildings and basement suites were adversely affected by the flood. In addition, they note that Calgary's population continues to grow at unprecedented rates, further stretching the already limited supply of rental accommodations.

Regardless of each stakeholder's stance on the issue, most can agree that the current situation of rental accommodation in Calgary is untenable. And while valid points are raised on all sides, the city needs some tangible action to be taken to address the issue. This is sure to be one of the issues to watch closely as we go to the poles this October.

For a more detailed discussion on the topic of secondary suites, check out our three-part series on accessory suites on our blog at