Rules and Regulations for Creating a Legal Basement Suite

Updated: Sep 9

Creating a rental suite can be a great way of subsidizing your mortgage payments. You may have a home with an existing suite, or you might want to put a new suite in a space you don’t need, such as a basement area or attic space. Prospective landlords have lots of questions about building regulations, how fancy to build or renovate a suite, and the general legal responsibilities of a landlord.

Over the next two articles, I will very generally cover the rules and regulations for creating a legal suite, after which I’ll discuss building a new suite from scratch.

I have been building or renovating rental suites for years. In fact, that’s how I got into this business. Fifteen years ago, I was looking to buy a home that had a good mortgage helper. We looked at 20 homes with incorporated suites, but all of them were poorly laid out and built. It was like they were afterthoughts, and most were stuffed into awkward spaces. They were made of the substandard materials, and privacy and sound-dampening were virtually non-existent. Many were even cold and musty.

Many renters don’t care if they live in a cave or not. They are the very renters you don’t want! You want a renter who takes pride in their home and is prepared to pay a little more for something nice. They usually are cleaner, can afford more monthly rent, and have more respect for the neighbors and the suite. If they are of such character, you will also tend to get your rent on time.

Every municipality has different regulations for secondary suites, so I won’t run through the rules for Wetaskiwin. However, most towns and cities are looking for the same end result; they try to balance the needs of all of their citizens.

Currently, there is a need for rental space beyond apartments or complete houses. Some renters prefer a basement suite over a small apartment and can’t afford to rent a house. Most home owners would say they prefer not to have a rental property beside them, but many do and don’t even know it. Therefore, the city does not want to outlaw secondary suites, but it does have to minimize potential problems with tenants, landlords, and neighbors.

When building a conforming secondary suite, a good general guideline is followed by many of the rules for building an apartment. For anyone wanting to build a quality suite, these rules don’t add much to the cost and do give immediate tangible benefits to the tenant and the landlord.

Some of these rules include having two exits to the suite and each bedroom having a window. For fire suppression and sound dampening, you should use 5/8” fire rated drywall between the suites, and fire rated doors that meet in a common area. Have lots of smoke detectors. Ensure proper ventilation of bathrooms, kitchens and utility areas.

Outside, provide adequate parking so the tenants don’t have to park in front of the neighbor’s house. And never forget that good fences make good neighbors! If the neighbors start to complain about your suite to the city, the city will have to follow the letter of the law. The worst-case scenario includes removing your suite.

The City wants to know about your suite for very valid reasons. First, they want to make sure it is safe for you and the tenant. They may require you to show that permits were taken on the additional plumbing and electrical work. Second, our property taxes are based on our property’s value. If you significantly increase your property value, you should pay more property tax.

Unfortunately, taxes are a fact of life. It could be worse, however; some cities soak landlords for even higher property taxes, additional water and sewer charges, garbage fees and annual permits.

Very few cities try to shut down basement suites, but they do have a responsibility to ensure the tenant’s safety and the landlords are playing fair. Building a quality suite is better for the landlord in the long run, not to mention the property’s long-term resale value, so following the rules is to your advantage.

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