Calgary Basement Suites: Legal vs. Illegal – Everything You Need to Know

Interested in developing a secondary suite in Calgary? Here is everything you need to know to ensure your basement suite is legal!

A secondary suite is a separate living space created within the main residence of a home that is designed to accommodate a single family. Secondary suites can include basement suites or in-law suites and backyard suites can include garden suites and laneway homes. In Calgary, most suites are located in basements. 

In order to be classified as a “secondary suite,” the living space must have its own sleeping, kitchen, living and bathroom areas. They may also include shared areas such as a backyard, parking spaces, laundry and storage areas.

The potential benefits of having a secondary suite are straightforward. With the income you can make renting out a secondary suite on an ongoing basis or occasionally on Airbnb, you can offset your mortgage and other expenses while also adding resale value to your home! 

However, it’s important to remember that having a secondary suite is not just an easy solution to generate extra income in the short term – there are lots of things to consider. And, just because you have an existing suite in your basement, that doesn’t necessarily mean it’s legal.

Calgary’s current registry of legal suites has only about 1,500 units registered, while the estimate of the city’s illegal secondary suites stands at 16,000. One reason for this is because until recently, the approval process for legalizing secondary suites was quite complicated. However, in 2018, City Council approved amendments to the Land Use Bylaw. Applicants can now apply for a development permit as the first step in building a secondary suite, AND the development permit fee for all new secondary suite applications is being waived until May 31, 2020!

Why Make Your Secondary Suite Legal Now? 

The city’s current bylaws were put in place in 2014 but the new 2019 bylaws will come into effect as of June 2020. When you apply before May 31, 2020, your suite will need to meet the 2014 bylaws to be approved as an existing suite, after which it will need to meet the 2019 updates to be approved as a new suite. 

As of June 2020, any new unit will also need to include a separate heat source, like a furnace, and comply with new exterior stair specifications. To find all of the new requirements see the New Secondary Suite PDF.

The process for having your basement suite registered as a legal suite has never been easier, thanks to the approved amendments to the process. 

Interested in building or registering your secondary suite? Here is everything you need to know to ensure your basement suite is legal!

Illegal vs. Legal Secondary Suites

What makes a basement suite illegal?

Any suite that was built without the proper permits, or was built in an area of the city where secondary suites aren’t permitted is considered an illegal suit. Some suites fall into the non-conforming category — this means they were built legally at the time but don’t conform to the current regulations.

What makes a basement suite legal?

To be considered legal, a secondary suite must be built in compliance with all the rules and with the right permits. If things have changed since original construction, the suite needs to still meet all current regulations.

Secondary Suite Safety Requirements:

  • Windows

    Each bedroom needs to have at least one window that can be opened from the inside without the use of keys, tools or special knowledge.

  • Smoke Alarms & Carbon Monoxide Detectors

    These must be present in each unit within the house and connected to each other so when one alarm is activated the other alarms sound as well.

  • Exits

    Each unit within the house should have at least one exit that leads directly outside and every exit door must be able to swing inward.

Interested in building a new secondary suite or making your existing suite legal? We’d love to help! Learn more about our secondary suite services and get in touch with our team!

Calgary Process for Applying for a Secondary Suite

Before You Apply – Resources from the City of Calgary

Steps to Building a New Secondary Suite 

1. Get Planning Approval – Development Permit

2. Get Building Code Approval – Building Permit

  • Provide a copy of a site plan
  • Provide a copy of floor plans
  • Provide a copy of elevations

Steps to Making an Existing Suite Legal 

1. Get Land Use Approval – Development Permit

  • If the suite has not had any inspections completed prior to your application, contact the city to book an inspection
  • Complete an application form
  • Provide a copy of the site plan

2. Get Building Code Approval – Building Permit

Remember, owning a legal basement suite pays off by allowing you to rent out your suite and increasing the value of your property. A legal basement suite can be a major selling point for renters and buyers as it means the suite meets all the requirements under Alberta’s Safety Codes Act.

It’s also important to let your insurance provider know about your secondary suite, whether its legal or not. If a homeowner fails to let their insurer know about the suite, they open themselves up to significant risk and the possibility that in the event of a claim, the insurance company can deny coverage and void the existing insurance policy.  

Insurance companies will not ask for verification to confirm if the suite is legal or illegal. However, a claim can be denied if it is deemed that damage due to homeowner negligence. It is definitely still advisable to go through with making sure your secondary suite is legal. For example, if a tenant is harmed while escaping a fire because you did not ensure proper fire routes, you could be sued or face criminal charges.

At Melanson Homes, we’re familiar with all of the city and provincial rules and regulations relating to legal basement suites. We can help you to ensure that your secondary suite development is in full compliance with the law and built with your specific needs and preferences!

Learn more about our secondary suite services here and check out some of our past projects in our project collection