Skip to main content

A Comprehensive Legal Suite Renovation Guide for B.C.

Let’s face it. There is a housing shortage in BC. The housing supply needs to grow, but only as fast as contractors, and planners can increase the supply in a safe manner. Unfortunately, this means demand is currently higher than supply.  Thankfully, BC Housing has put together an incentive program aimed at increasing the supply of affordable housing in the community.

As a property owner in Langley, I recently was put into a position where I had to either renovate my basement my suite to bring it into compliance, or dismantling it to show that it was no longer a suite. Since I wanted to keep my basement suite for rental income, I decided I was going to learn the code, and go through the process to find out what I was required to do to ensure my suite was safe, and met all the regulations. Now that more homeowners will be going through the same process, I wanted to put together this guide to help others that may be in a similar situation as myself.

What Are The Pros And Cons Of Legalizing A Secondary Suite?

Finding information on secondary suites and trying to understand the BC Building Code can be a difficult process, but it is often worth the hassle for a variety of reasons. Before getting started, you should first determine if secondary suites are permitted in your area. Second, it is likely that a building permit is required to build a new secondary suite. Before we discuss the requirements for secondary suites, let’s go over the obvious benefits.

As a homeowner, there are many benefits to ensuring your suite meets local and provincial regulations:

Pros:

  1. Increased Property Value: Legalizing a secondary suite can significantly enhance the market value of your property, even if you don’t use it to generate income.
  2. Additional Income: Renting out a suite provides a reliable source of additional income, either through Airbnb or longer-term rentals. I preferred getting 1 long term tenant than managing Airbnb guests.
  3. Affordable Housing: Contributes to the community by offering more affordable housing options.
  4. Avoid Penalties: Legalization helps you avoid fines and penalties associated with unauthorized suites.
  5. Recognized Income for Mortgage Calculations: Some financial institutions won’t weight rental income highly when determining your capacity to take on debt and meet mortgage payments unless the rental income is coming from a legal suite.

Cons:

  1. Initial Investment: There’s an upfront cost for obtaining permits and meeting construction requirements.
  2. Regulatory Compliance: Strict adherence to building codes and bylaws may pose challenges, particularly for older homes.
  3. Limited Size: Suites cannot exceed 120m² (1291 sq ft), limiting potential rental income.
  4. Zoning Restrictions: Certain property types, like townhouses or multifamily units, may not allow secondary suites.

Note that this guide is specific to Langley Township, where I was living (Brookswood). However, the regulations are similar across BC and beyond.

What do homeowners need to know about secondary suites?

The Secondary Suite Incentive Program: starting April 2024

The Secondary Suite Incentive Program provides financial assistance to homeowners who want to create secondary suites on their properties and rent them out at below-market rates.

Starting in April 2024, you can receive up to 50% of renovation costs covered, up to a maximum of $40,000. Plus, it’s not your typical loan – it’s forgivable, meaning you won’t have to repay it if you meet the program’s requirements.

To qualify for loan forgiveness, the new unit must be on the same property where you reside and rented out at below-market rates set by BC Housing for at least five years.

Construction Requirements to Legalize a Basement Suite:

  1. Before you start the process, first ensure your property meets the requirements to have a legal suite. The Langley Secondary Suite Requirements are:
  • The principal dwelling must be owner-occupied.
  • Only one suite is permitted per single-family dwelling.
  • The suite should be within the primary dwelling, not in a detached building.
  • Size must not exceed 120m² (1291 sq ft), and minimum ceiling height should be 2.0m (6’6”).
  • Suites cannot be subdivided under the Strata Property Act.
  • No suites in townhouses, multifamily units, row houses, or where a coach house is already legally constructed.

Applying For a Building Permit:

  1. Prepare Drawings of the suite to show existing conditions, and a renovation plan if necessary. The municipality will need to see that your suite meets building code requirements and the zoning bylaw standards. You may need to engage an architect and/or engineer to create the drawings if structural changes are part of the scope. At Dawn, we have many partners that can assist with this process.
  2. In some cases, if you are on septic, you will need to have your septic inspected to ensure it meets the flow requirements for the additional suite. I highly recommend confirming this before you start renovating. Upgrading a septic system can become very expensive. If your system meets the requirements, a Registered Wastewater Practitioner will need to stamp your drawings to approve that the Septic is adequate. Seek professional advice if modifications are necessary.
  3. Apply for, and receive a building permit. A contractor like Dawn Construction can help you during the process to ensure the municipality is happy with the drawings and Plan.

The Renovation Process:

  1. If you are renovating an older home or an existing space that may have asbestos, this city or township will require a hazmat report to ensure no contractors or city personnel (inspectors) are exposed to anything hazardous when on site.
  2. The municipality may also ask you to notify Worksafe BC of the project. This must be done prior to starting the renovation or build. You can easily do this yourself online
  3. Do the work that is provided, as shown in the drawings you submitted. I recommend you engage an experience and licensed contractor to assist with the renovation.
  4. Schedule an inspection with the city or township. Depending on the scope of your project, you may require multiple inspections for different stages of the project. Be sure to understand the inspection requirements as you progress through the project.
  5. After you receive approval, you will be able to purchase a secondary suite license. You can now legally rent out your suite, and you have successfully increased the value of your home!

Specific Safety Considerations when legalizing a suite in B.C.

The following are common considerations when renovating a secondary suite in Langley, BC. You may be required to do some, or all of these depending on your situation. Many of the provincial rules are similar.

  • Install fire dampers in forced air heating systems. Certain cases will also require a duct type smoke detector off the furnace plenum. If smoke is detected, it shuts the furnace fan off so as not to circulate air throughout the dwellings.
  • If using electric baseboards, ensure electric baseboards comply with safety standards.
  • Certain cases will require fire rated doors, fire rated drywall on walls between main dwelling and the secondary dwelling, and potentially even fire rated ceiling drywall.
  • Often, there must be an additional photo electric smoke alarm installed, that is hard wired and connected to the main dwelling smoke alarm. This is so that if smoke is detected on either floor, an alarm will sound on both floors to alert all applicants. They must be hardwired and connected to each other.
  • If the furnace and utility room is in the secondary suite like mine was, you will have to ensure that it is properly insulated with fire resistant insulation or drywall, and it must have a self-closing solid core door. In my case, we had to reframe the existing sliding bi-fold style door system to create a proper door frame in order to install a door with a self-closing hinge.
  • There must be safe egress from the dwelling, this includes specifics related to window sizes and access to exit/entry doors.
  • In some cases, you must engage an engineer and architect involved to sign a Schedule B form. This form confirms that engineer understands the scope involved, and commits to reviewing it and ensuring it complies with structural code and standards.

Real Estate Considerations when purchasing a home with an unauthorized dwelling unit:

Some buyers are finding out the hard way that many municipalities are going through real estate listings to check for unauthorized dwelling units. For example, both the Township of Langley and the City of Langley are cracking down by sending notices to homeowners forcing them to comply with the existing regulations. In other words, eventually, you must comply, or you will have to remove it.

Additional things to Consider:

Family Occupied Secondary Suites:
If occupied by family members without generating income, owners can request an exemption for reduced fees.

Fees for a Secondary Suite License:
Annual license fees vary, but most are a few hundred dollars a year, along with a slight increase in utilities.

Existing Authorized Suite Removal:
Owners not licensing existing authorized suites must apply for a free Building Permit to decommission or remove the suite.

Unauthorized Secondary Suites Penalties:
Owners of rental units that do not meet safety requirements may face fines up to $500 per day, enforcement actions, and property tax implications affecting resale and refinancing.

Frequently Asked Questions about Secondary Suites and Building Permits in Langley:

  1. What is a secondary suite? A separate residential unit within a home, generally located in the basement, with a maximum size of 120m² (1291 sq ft).
  2. Can I put a secondary suite in my house? Contact the Permit, License, and Inspection Services Department to determine if your property complies with applicable bylaws.
  3. How can I determine if a house has an authorized secondary suite? Contact the Permit, License, and Inspection Services Department with the property address for verification.
  4. Can a single family home have multiple suites? Usually, no. Check with your specific municipality planning department.
  5. What if I don’t get a Secondary Suite License for my secondary suite? Owners may face fines up to $500 per day, enforcement actions, and property tax implications affecting resale, refinancing, or sale of the property.

Remember, legalizing your secondary suite not only benefits you but also contributes positively to the community. For a successful project, consult with professionals, adhere to regulations, and enjoy the rewards from investing in a valuable addition to your home. Plus, with the opportunity to obtain a forgivable loan, it is a no brainer! At Dawn, our job is to help homeowners with transparent and honest advice. Give us a call if you are interested in renovating in British Columbia.

Enough Talk, Let's Build Something Together!

Leave a Reply