RiverLife Real Estate


Basement suite changes coming in 2020

I recently attended a seminar about compliance from the City of Calgary that covered topics from Real Property Reports to Secondary Suites. Unfortunately there are many, many things that are not allowed in this City and oftentimes, they don’t become an issue until a homeowner sells their property.

This is when something like a garden shed placed too close to a drainage swale in the backyard comes up as “encroaching” and the seller needs to apply for (and pay for) a relaxation from the City, all at the last minute because they have an offer in place.

Or something like a deck built more than 2′ off the ground without a permit becomes a concern for the buyer and they try and renegotiate on price.

Or a basement suite that has been around for decades is being marketed as “non-conforming” or “mother-in-law suite” – both terms that the City doesn’t consider valid.

Many times homeowners complete their own renovations and landscaping projects without looking into what the City bylaws are about these items. You can search for any topic on calgary.ca – like how far a hot tub needs to be from property lines or how large of a pergola are you allowed to build.

A secondary suite is a living area with a bathroom and cooking facility of some kind (even just a hot plate or toaster oven). This could be in a basement, above a garage or in a separate structure.

There are thousands of “illegal” suites in Calgary – most of them right now, in fact! But this reality is changing. Any suite that is not on the Secondary Suite Registry is considered “illegal” to the City. In the past, the City would investigate only when there was a complaint about an illegal suite, typically when a neighbour was annoyed about renters parking in front of their house or when a previous tenant of the suite wasn’t happy with the landlord and wanted to report them.

However, I learned at this seminar that the City will begin actively investigating illegal suites starting in June 2020. If you are renting out your suite or have it listed for rent (on websites such as rentfaster.ca, Kijiji or even Airbnb), the city will be coming to knock on your door.

They do have the power to shut down your suite, but what they really want is for you to work with them to bring your suite up to their safety, parking and building code standards and continue renting it.

The requirements are easier today than they were five years ago and they are waiving $700 in fees from now until June 2020. There will still be some expense to bring any old secondary suite up to code, even if it’s as small as integrated smoke detectors (so that if there is a fire in one suite, the detector in the other suite goes off as well).

Every property is different and it’s important that you talk to the City about your specific suite. There is a lot of great info here and you can call 311 anytime to talk to a planning officer.

As realtors, we cannot market a suite that is not on the registry unless we use the word “illegal” every time we use the word “suite”. So as far as ease of selling and maximizing your selling price goes, it pays to do the work now to legalize your suite.

It’s also a feature when you are looking to rent your property out. Renters are increasingly looking for basement suites to be on the registry so that they know they are safe. They will be willing to pay more for legal suites.

One other important thing to know is that secondary suites were just voted last month to be allowed in duplex properties. Previously, they were only allowed in detached homes. Now if you are in a half-duplex (also referred to as semi-detached), you can also create a legal secondary suite. There will still be requirements about safe egress, parking, outdoor amenity space, etc. but at least the Land Use Bylaw will allow it!

I’m happy to chat more about this topic anytime! Drop me a text or give me a call 403.852.0262!


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