Things to Know About Secondary Suites

Home School Home Buying Tips

Considering a Secondary Suite? Here’s what you need to know.

As Alberta’s major cities continue to grow in size and population, the development and use of secondary suites has continued to be a hot topic for governments, homeowners and renters alike. Secondary suites are separate living spaces created within a property that was originally designed to accommodate a single family. These private, self-contained units can take many different forms including basement apartments, in-law suites, garden suites and above garage units. To be considered a secondary suite, the unit must have its own point of entry, heating and ventilation systems, kitchen, bathroom and living and sleeping areas; while it can share a yard, parking area, laundry and storage space with the principal dwelling. Semi-detached homes, townhomes and apartments do not qualify for secondary suites. Duplexes do not qualify for secondary suites in Edmonton, but do qualify for secondary suite development in Calgary.

Secondary suites have been permitted across Edmonton since 2007, and Calgary City Council just approved amendments to the Land Use Bylaw to allow secondary suites throughout most of the city this past March. In order to build a secondary suite in your home, an application and approval process is required with the City as you must obtain a building permit and a development permit. If the idea of having a secondary suite in your home sounds appealing, there are a number of details that you must be aware of before applying with your city. Here, we break down the basics of what you need to know if you’re considering a secondary suite.

Is a Secondary Suite Right for You?
Secondary suites are a desirable development for both homeowners and tenants. However having a secondary developed is not the right fit for all homeowners. Developing a secondary suite may be right for you if:

  • You can provide tenants with a fully functional living space without compromising your own living space.
  • You can provide an additional parking space on your property for your suite’s tenants.
  • Your lot meets local bylaw requirements for minimum size and dimensions.
  • You can provide outdoor amenity space for tenants.
  • You are prepared to meet fire and building code specifications in the construction or renovation of the suite.
  • If you’re able to accommodate those factors, then developing a secondary suite may be a worthwhile consideration for your home.

Secondary Suite Safety Measures
To be approved for a secondary suite, multiple safety measures must be in place for the wellbeing of the homeowner and the tenant. The most important safety measures required for a secondary suite are windows, smoke and carbon monoxide detectors and exits.

  • Windows: In a secondary suite, each bedroom needs to have at least one window that can be opened from the inside without the use of a key or other tool. This window should be unobstructed and large enough for anyone to fit through in the case of an emergency.
  • Smoke & Carbon Monoxide Detectors: These must be present in the principal dwelling as well as the secondary unit. They also must be connected to each other so that one alarm activates the other.
  • Exits: Each unit in the home needs to have at least one exit that leads directly outside. Every exit door is also required to have the ability to swing inward.

Benefits of Secondary Suites
Secondary suites are a housing option that provides benefits to homeowners, renters, the community and the city. For homeowners, building a secondary suite adds additional income and can help pay down a mortgage. They can also add additional living space for extended family and even improve resale value. From a city and community perspective, secondary suites help provide more affordable housing while using existing infrastructure and can increase a city’s population without increasing the city’s footprint.

As secondary suites become a more common trend among single-family homes, municipalities are becoming more stringent on the regulations being imposed on them. Before making the decision to develop a secondary suite in your home, make sure you are able to make the important accommodations that are required for approval.

Each municipality will have their own bylaws that govern the zoning and permitting of secondary suites. Be sure to check with your municipal government for any regulations and requirements that are specific to your location.