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CHECKLIST: Four things to verify before legalizing a Secondary Suite

CHECKLIST: Four things to verify before legalizing a Secondary Suite

As the number of Secondary Suites in the Vancouver area explodes, the pool of illegal rentals is growing. In fact, the majority of Secondary Suites in the City are illegal. While having an illegal Secondary Suite means risking being reported to By-Law Inspectors, the process of legalizing your Secondary Suite can be costly and arduous. If you do decide to pursue the legalization process, however, there are several things you need to verify before moving forward.

The four things to verify before legalizing your Secondary Suite

1. The Zoning in your area

Not all communities are Zoned for Secondary Suites. Before starting the process to legalize a Secondary Suite, make sure you have the appropriate Zoning. If you don’t, there’s no point in moving forward as, no matter what you do, the City will turn your application down.

Remember that the City cares about how many Kitchens there are in a house and that is how they define Dwelling Units. There are many words for this, including but not limited to: Secondary Suites; Duplexes; and Multiple Conversion Dwellings.

So even if your Zoning doesn’t allow a Secondary Suite it may allow other options. Engaging an experienced Designer will help you navigate through the complexities of Zoning.

2. Ensure your Secondary Suite meets basic living and safety requirements

There are a range of By-Laws and regulations related to Secondary Suites that govern tenants’ safety and standards of living. Entrances, heating, unit size, ceiling heights, and more need to be checked to ensure they comply with national, provincial, and local standards. Pay extra attention to safety-related issues, including that you have a Fire Separation and the necessary number of exits.

3. Review the plan for your home

Your City, with rare exceptions, will have a copy of the Building Plans for every house in its limits. Before legalizing a Secondary Suite, you will need to ensure that the layout of your house matches the Plans on file. Therefore, it is vital to review the Plans and check them against your home. If there are differences, you will have to get Permits for those differences, which may mean that you have to make alterations to bring your home into compliance with Code and Zoning, or at least show the City that the differences are in compliance.

4. Bring in a Contractor

If your house isn’t in compliance with Code or Zoning then you should call a licenced Contractor to examine your home and give you an estimate to bring it into compliance.

Once you are ready to begin legalizing your Secondary Suite call for the initial Inspection.

Before beginning the process of legalizing your Secondary Suite, it’s important to seriously consider the time, cost, and work involved. Remember once you have called for the Inspection there is no going back. Once the City is aware that you have an unauthorized Secondary Suite your choices are to legalize it or remove it. Many of our Clients did these steps in the wrong order (contacted the City first then found out the costs after) and had to remove a Suite they were relying on for income because they couldn’t afford the renovations required to bring it up to Code and Zoning. Make sure to read up on the many standards you will be expected to meet and ensure that you are ready to commit to the process before undertaking it.   


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