The term “secondary suite” is generally used to describe a self-contained dwelling unit with its own kitchen and bathroom, which is separate from the principal dwelling in a house. It can be located either within the principal dwelling or in an accessory building on the same lot as the principal dwelling. These units are also known as “accessory apartments” and “in-law suites.” Basement apartments are the most common type. Aside from being affordable to renters, they also provide income and extra security for the home owner who has more space than is needed, and make entering the housing market easier for first-time buyers who may use the rental income to offset their mortgage costs.
Secondary suites are an affordable housing option that meets the needs of many people, including members of an extended family, singles, seniors and people with low or fixed incomes. Since they are usually constructed inside existing buildings, they help optimize the use of existing housing stock and infrastructure, and re-populate neighbourhoods with declining populations.
What Regulations Apply to Secondary Suites?
Whether you intend to renovate an existing secondary suite or add a new one, the secondary dwelling unit must conform to all zoning, building and fire code requirements.
Municipal Zoning by-laws
Most Canadian municipalities have zoning by-laws that regulate, among other things, the type, size and height of buildings, what they are used for, the location of parking and the number of spaces, the depth of the front, rear and side yards, and the portion of the property area that the building can occupy. Zoning determines where factories, businesses, shopping centres, schools, single-family houses and apartment buildings may be located. It also determines whether a house can contain a secondary suite.
Discretionary or conditional use — Secondary suites are subject to a specific approval process identified as discretionary or conditional. This means the secondary suite may be refused. Contact your municipal authority of your area for information on applicable legislation.