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Licensed REALTOR® in Victoria, BC with Pemberton Holmes + Mavrikos Collective

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Is My Suite Legal or Illegal?

September 14, 2020


What Is The Difference Between A Legal Suite And An Illegal Suite?

A legal suite is when the secondary suite or garden suite adheres to zoning bylaws, meets BC building codes, and has all of the building, electrical, and plumbing permits in place.


Furthermore, a qualified inspector has inspected the suite, and the City has issued a final occupancy permit. A secondary suite or garden suite is not legal until a final inspection has been passed.


An illegal suite is when a garden suite or secondary suite within a single-family home, duplex, or townhome does not meet all the BC building codes, zoning bylaws, or was not completed with the proper permits.


For instance, a secondary suite could have its own kitchen, bedroom, bathroom, and separate entrance. Still, if it does not have the required number of parking spaces as per the bylaws, there could be complaints from neighbours or fines issued by the municipality.


A zoning bylaw places restrictions on the use of property, the location of buildings on a property, and the shape of buildings that are permitted. Each District has its own set of bylaws that residents must follow. The bylaws include a property’s zoning and will influence the property’s use and market value.


BC Building Codes

Are you looking to add a suite or renovate the existing space into a secondary suite? For homes built after July 1st, 2000, new construction must comply with the current BC building codes.


Whereas for homes built before July 1st, 2000, homeowners may have more flexible options to comply with building codes since older homes often have lower ceilings or narrow hallways, which would be very expensive for homeowners to change.


What Are The Advantages Of Legalizing A Suite?

  • Ensures health and safety of occupants
  • Protected with home insurance coverage
  • Reduces neighbour complaints
  • A legalized suite can increase the present and future value of your home
  • Can be used as a mortgage helper
  • Increases the supply of rental housing units available in a neighbourhood


What Is A Secondary Suite?

A secondary suite is a separate living area within or attached to a single-family dwelling. Secondary suites are commonly called basement suites or in-law suites. Recently, changes to the building code now allow secondary suites in duplexes, townhouses and row houses in BC.


A secondary suite must be attached to the primary single-family dwelling, but it operates as a self-contained suite with a separate kitchen, bathroom, and at least one bedroom, and entrance.


Often, there can be shared spaces between the occupants of the secondary suite and single-family homes such as laundry, garages or utility rooms.


It’s important to note that duplexes or homes with an existing garden suite are not allowed to also have a secondary suite. If a home has a secondary suite, the primary residence must be owner-occupied.


What Is A Garden Suite?

A garden suite is a separate residential structure located in the backyard of a single-family home. The requirements for the allowance of a garden suite include but are not limited to the following: zoning, location, height, setbacks, building code, access, and maximum total floor area.


As previously mentioned above, garden suites are not permitted when there is already an existing secondary suite within the single-family dwelling. Similar to secondary suites, if a property has a garden suite, the primary residence must be owner-occupied.


What Are The Risks Of Operating An Illegal Suite?

  • Public complaints from neighbours could lead to fines and notices to stop all rental activity for the suite
  • Loss of rental income if you’re unable to continue to operate the rental suite
  • Costs to legalize suite and bring the suite, plumbing and electrical up to BC building code standards
  • It may limit your ability to make a home insurance claim if you don’t declare that you have a rental suite
  • The projected rental income cannot be used when qualifying for mortgage financing


That being said, many suites in BC are illegal but continue to be rented out. The primary concern with illegal suites is ensuring occupants’ safety.


However, renters of illegal suites still have the same rights under the Residential Tenancy Act. Also, illegal suites do increase the supply of rental housing (especially in competitive rental markets such as Victoria).


Will A Legal Or Illegal Suite Help Me Qualify For A Larger Mortgage?

If there is a legal secondary suite or a garden suite on the property, the income from the suite can help a prospective purchaser qualify for a larger mortgage.


However, if a suite is illegal, a lender cannot use the suite’s projected rental income in the financing qualifications because the rental income is not guaranteed.


However, if the suite is legal, a homebuyer will be able to use the projected rental income from the suite in addition to their personal income to help them qualify for a mortgage on that specific property.


A home with a legal secondary suite or garden suite can help a prospective homebuyer who may require more income in order to afford a home in a more desirable neighbourhood.


If the property that you’re interested in has a suite, but the suite isn’t legal, you won’t be able to declare the potential rental income from the suite when qualifying for your mortgage. You may, however, very likely still be able to rent out the suite (even if it’s illegal).


But, if you’re highly dependent on the rental income from an illegal suite, it may be too risky financially in case you lose the rental income. It’s important to speak with your mortgage broker and take time to go over your finances.



Are you interested in more real estate blog posts? Below are a few of my most popular posts!

  1. Donna Cook says:

    What if suite was not Registered with Canada Post is now cause I did it an it’s a basement owner not on property an no window in one of bedroom

    • Ria Mavrikos says:

      Hi Donna, thank you for reading my blog post! I would recommend contacting your municipality to see if your suite meets zoning bylaws. Then, you would want to confirm that the suite meets the BC building code and has all the appropriate permits in place

  2. Mike Stinson says:

    I bought a house that came with a renter already in the lower suite, however the suite is not legal. We will be putting an addition on the house to add a upper and lower bedroom, and will not be having a paying tenant as our parents will be moving into the lower suite. As they are not paying rent, will we need to worry about building codes for a secondary rental suite?

    • Ria Mavrikos says:

      Hi Mike,
      Thank you for reading the blog post! I would recommend checking with your municipality about zoning and suite requirements for your neighbourhood – it could be an easy fix to have it up to code. Or, you could ask the company who is helping you with the additions to your house as they may be more familiar with the process. You may have some flexibility since you’re renting to family but it could be a good idea to also follow up with your insurance provider to make sure you’re all covered.

  3. Tyler says:

    Are signed tenancy rental or lease agreements valid between a homeowner and tenant(s) that dwell(s) within the homeowners suite(s) if the suite(s) is/are illegal?

  4. Carol Wilson says:

    I just moved into a basement suite and it is An illegal Suite I was just wondering if the one year lease I signed is valid

  5. Gerry pederson says:

    I am in a basement suite no sound proffing no kitchen range no fan in kithen

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