Have you been considering finishing your basement? Or, perhaps, you’ve finished your basement some time before – or purchased a home where the basement was already finished – and you’re considering doing some remodelling to incorporate a basement suite. Basement suites, income suites, or even just “secondary suites” are gaining traction and popularity within Calgary due to the additional benefits they offer. Yes, they take some work to create, and they make mean sacrificing some space in your home, but there’s great reason for homeowners to incorporate them.

That being said, you can’t just shovel out some added room in your basement, slap in a bed, and call it a basement suite. There are legal basement suite requirements that Calgary homeowners must follow, and they must be met to rent out your new digs. In this blog, we’ll go over the benefits of building a basement suite, legal basement suite requirements in Calgary, and what the difference is between a legal and an illegal basement suite.

Requirements to Make a Basement Suite Legal in the City of Calgary

As always, you can contact Basement Builders directly to discuss your Calgary basement development needs. We specialize in home renovations – particularly in basement renovations – and can’t wait to get you started with a quote so you can see how affordable your basement finishing project will be.

What are the legal basement suite requirements in Calgary?

Let’s list out the secondary suite or “basement suite” requirements in Calgary in brief first, and then go over them in further detail below. Legal basement suite requirements in Calgary are as follows:

  • A separate bathroom from the main floor
  • A separate kitchen area from the main floor
  • An entryway which is accessible from the outside without needing to pass through the main unit. There can be a shared stairwell, but each unit must have its own private entryway.
  • Bedrooms that contain proper egress windows.

Let’s break this down.

A separate bathroom from the main floor – sounds simple enough. Costs may rack up if you’re having to reroute or add in new plumbing and ventilation. You’ll have to consider flooring costs, fixtures, and amenities. You will be required to have a toilet, sink, tub, and shower. A shower/tub combo can do the trick, if need be.

A separate kitchen area from the main floor – you will be required to provide a separate kitchenette that includes the basic cooking utilities. You can get fancy and add in a dishwasher and other options, but that will rack up costs. Be mindful when renovating your basement suite to ensure you’re both impressing tenants while keeping things under budget. Basement Builders can help with this.

A separate entryway. You’ll need to have a separate entryway that is distinct from the main one that you use as the owner of the dwelling. You’re best off saving costs by having a home that already has a separate exit in its basement, but if not you’ll need to install one.

Bedrooms with proper egress windows. These windows will need to meet the width and height qualifications as determined by the City of Calgary, which can serve as an emergency escape route in the event of a fire or disaster.

Sounds pretty simple, right? Before we break these points down, let’s address the benefits of adding a basement suite to your new or existing home:

What are the benefits of incorporating a basement suite?

Having a basement suite serves as an opportunity to generate added income, without needing to maintain and own an entirely separate property. You’re a landlord, but in the sense that you’re also living in the property that your tenant is. After your basement suite has been rented out, you can offset your mortgage payments by acquiring a monthly rent. If your mortgage has already been paid off, the rent money can serve as a passive income and go toward your retirement savings, among many other things. A basement suite is also a lot easier to maintain and costs less money than a second property. Basically, it’s an easy added income.

Moreover, having a basement suite can be appealing to potential buyers. If you’re looking to sell your home in the next little while, having an income suite or a secondary suite can boost the total resale value of your property. Within Calgary where there’s a C-train and a huge city bus system, having a basement suite is very appealing to potential renters.

What’s another added benefit without anything to do with income? Well, having a basement suite can mean having a place for your family to go to when they need it. If you have a parent who’s needing assisted living but isn’t quite ready to go to a home, or if you want them to stay close to you, you can use the basement suite for them. Maybe you have an adult child who isn’t quite ready to move out but wants to explore their independence – a basement suite could be the perfect solution for them. A basement suite can also be a great solution for if you often have family visiting from out of Calgary and you want them to feel more comfortable. If you have created your basement suite according to the legal basement suite requirements in Calgary, this can allow your family to stay connected without constantly having to cross paths with them every other moment of the day.

A basement suite can also easily be retouched if you are no longer renting it out to tenants or family members and transformed into an office space, a playroom, or even a little bar to entertain guests in.

What is the difference between a legal and illegal basement suite?

Unfortunately, as bylaws tend to change, it’s easy to have your basement suite fall into the category of “illegal” without too much attention. Calgary had basement suite bylaws put in place in 2014 but were rectified in June 2020. Basically, for homeowners applying before May 31, 2020, to have their suite legalized, they’d have to meet the 2014 bylaws to be considered “a legal existing suite” and need to meet the 2019/2020 updates to be considered a “new suite.”

With the latest bylaws, new units will also need to have a separate heat source, such as a furnace, and comply with the brand-new exterior star specifications. So, what’s the difference between a legal and an illegal basement suite? Basically, any suite that was built without proper permits – or was built in an area of the city where secondary/basement suites aren’t allowed – is considered an illegal suite. If your suite was built within the city specifications and meets all the requirements, then it’s legal. Note that you’ll need to make updates/renovations to ensure it still meets current regulations if the existing bylaws are updated or changed.

Tips for Appealing Basement Suites – by Basement Builders

Much of why people choose to create a basement suite is to appeal to prospect tenants. As such, it’s not a bad idea to stylize your basement suite in a way that you think would best appeal to your potential tenants. It can become anything. Here are some design tips from Basement Builders to really make your basement suite feel like a home to its renters.

  • Recessed lighting is a great way to take advantage of a lower ceiling height while looking great at the same time – and is more affordable than chandeliers. Well placed basement windows can also help add some natural light.
  • Update your finishes. This includes faucets, light fixtures, hardware, etc. Just because it’s a basement apartment, doesn’t mean it doesn’t need nice, modernized fixtures.
  • Try having both a bath and a shower. You can technically just have one or the other, according to bylaw regulations, but it’s more appealing to families, couples, and individuals if you have both options. You can also do a shower/tub combo.
  • Offer separate laundry. This may mean you’ll need more space and smaller basements won’t suffice for this, but this can be a huge win (and often a pre-req) for many tenants. You can be creative with this if space is tight and you’re willing to make the effort to squeeze things in.
  • Go higher with the ceiling height. This may not be an option for you if you’ve already purchased your home, but if you’re wanting to have a basement suite, keep an eye out for homes with high ceilings down below.
  • Add a gas fireplace. No, this isn’t a necessary, but it’s very appealing to many tenants and basements can get very cold very quickly – especially in the wintertime. So long as you have proper insulation, you should be fine, but it’s not a bad idea to add a gas fireplace as a means to impress your renters and add some real “cozy” appeal.

We hope that you gained some insights from this blog, some ideas on how to create an appealing basement suite, and learned about what makes a legal basement suite in Calgary. If you need help designing your basement or want to know how the basement development process works, get in touch with Basement Builders for more advice and tips!