If you’re considering buying a home with a secondary suite, make sure you understand all of the risks and benefits. You’ll also want to ensure that you have a property insurance policy in place to cover the suite.
The City of West Vancouver has recently stopped issuing permits for in-law suites, which are second dwelling units attached to a principal dwelling. It will begin fining owners if they don’t get permits by September 30.
Reporting an Illegal Suite
If you are a home owner who is considering buying a property with a secondary suite or is already living in a house that has a secondary suite, it’s important to understand the difference between a legal and an illegal suite. A legal suite is a second unit that meets all the requirements for a secondary suite and a building permit, including fire separators, smoke alarms, door heights, laundry, and suite entrances.
A secondary suite, also called a nanny suite, rental suite, mortgage helper, in-law suite or basement apartment, is a separate living area that may occupy up to *40% of the total square footage of a single family dwelling (*exceptions apply). It functions as a self-contained living unit complete with a kitchen, bathroom and at least one bedroom.
The city’s Planning Department has long advocated for the use of secondary suites as a strategy to increase density and provide more rental housing. It is considered a “good neighbour” practice that can reduce noise, air pollution and traffic congestion on residential streets.
But a recent report has found that only five per cent of homeowners in Canada who rent out a portion of their home to non-family members do so legally. The report notes that these suites often do not meet the fire and electrical safety standards, and the owners can be sued if a flood or fire results in an accident or death.
What’s more, an illegal suite could be financially risky for homeowners who rely on the income from it. A lender might not recognize the income from a secondary suite, which can affect your ability to qualify for a larger mortgage.
As a result, some homeowners may choose not to rent out their unauthorized suites or may opt for a legal suite that meets the city’s rules and regulations. These decisions should be balanced against the risks and benefits of owning a suite.
The City of Vancouver should stop targeting newly built homes for unauthorized suites and put an end to this non-sensical practice that is not only wasteful of resources but also undermines the City’s goals to build more affordable housing in Vancouver. This is especially true in light of the City’s recent express mandate to improve the supply of affordable rentals.
What is an Illegal Suite?
An illegal suite is a basement apartment that isn’t legal. It may have been built under an older bylaw that didn’t allow for basement suites, or it hasn’t been renovated to meet new BC building codes and zoning bylaws.
If a property has an unauthorized basement suite, it may not be safe for you or your tenants. It could also impact your mortgage.
Many people think that having a secondary suite in their home can help them qualify for a larger mortgage. However, this is not always the case.
In some cases, it can actually be a disadvantage, as the income from an unauthorized suite isn’t considered legal. If the unauthorized suite doesn’t comply with the City’s rules, it could affect your ability to get approved for a mortgage.
The problem is, a lot of people are willing to rent out an unauthorized suite because they believe it’s a good way to make extra money. But you should know that this isn’t a smart move.
Illegal suites are a real problem for people in the West Vancouver area. They often have broken smoke detectors and tiny egress windows, and are not safe for you or your tenants.
Fortunately, you can report an illegal suite. You can do this online or by phone. The City’s aims to remove illegal basement suites quickly so that they don’t cause any more damage to your property or to your family’s safety.
You can learn more about legal secondary suites and what you need to do if your property has an illegal suite by visiting the City’s website or calling us. You can also check out the City’s Secondary Suite Registry to see if the suite you are renting is legally allowed.
A legal secondary suite is one that adheres to the zoning bylaws, meets the BC building code, and has all of the necessary permits in place. It may also be inspected by a qualified inspector, and the City will issue a final occupancy permit.
A legal suite is also safer for the homeowners and their families, so it’s a better option if you are planning to rent out the suite. But if you are looking to buy a property with a secondary suite, make sure you speak with a realtor who knows how to deal with these issues.
How do I Report an Illegal Suite?
If you own a property with an illegal suite, it’s important to know your rights and how to report it. Illegal suites can impact your home’s value, increase neighbour complaints, and make it difficult to sell or rent the property.
In West Vancouver, unauthorized suites are called second units, accessory apartments, granny flats and basement apartments, and are most often found in older homes with basements. Some are located in multi-family homes and have common spaces with the primary residence, such as a laundry room or shared hallways.
You will need a building permit from the City of West Vancouver when adding an unauthorized secondary suite to your house or when making alterations or renovations to a property. The Permits & Inspections Department can help you obtain the permits you need to complete your projects and ensure they meet city requirements.
There are many benefits of having a legal secondary suite, including:
* Keep your home insured – A suite will need to be declared as a part of your homeowner’s insurance policy and have appropriate coverage for both the property and your tenants. This will reduce your premiums and ensure you are covered in the event of an emergency.
A legal secondary suite can also help you qualify for a larger mortgage. If the suite is legal, a lender will be able to include the projected rental income from it in your financing qualifications when you apply for a mortgage.
The suite must also be safe and in compliance with City bylaws, including standards of maintenance and good neighbourhood. In addition, it must have a separate entrance door that is shared with the main house, but leads directly outside the dwelling.
Lastly, the suite must be located in a sanitary location and have proper drainage to avoid flooding problems. A suite must also have adequate headroom and moisture levels in the basement to comply with building codes.
If you own a home in West Vancouver and have an illegal secondary suite, it’s important to know your legal options for reporting the unauthorized accommodation. The most effective way to do this is to speak with the Permits & Inspections department, who can guide you through the process of making your unauthorized suite legal.
What if I Don’t Know How to Report an Illegal Suite?
If you suspect that a neighbour has an illegal suite on their property, it’s important to report it. In West Vancouver, there is a bylaw that requires that you make a complaint if you think there is a problem with your neighbour’s property.
If the City receives a complaint and it is investigated and confirmed, then the homeowner will be charged additional water and sewer fees and bylaw compliance proceedings may be instituted.
The best way to report an illegal suite is to contact Bylaw Services at 604-943-7595 and request an inspection. In most cases, the inspector will be able to determine whether or not the suite is illegal.
You can also send a photo or video of the suite to Bylaw Services. This can help the inspector understand if there are any safety issues that need to be addressed.
In some cases, the bylaw inspector will need to contact you to verify information and provide you with a time frame for a visit. This process can take a bit of time and is typically not immediate.
However, the bylaw is a tool that the City uses to enforce community standards and good neighbour practices. By reporting an illegal suite to the City, you can help to ensure that the neighbours in your neighbourhood are aware of their rights and responsibilities as well as what to expect from their landlord.
It’s not uncommon for people to live in homes with unauthorized or illegal suites. In fact, 80% of rental suites in Greater Vancouver are unauthorized and do not comply with all the City’s rules.
Illegal suites can be dangerous, especially if they have no proper electrical and plumbing work. They can also be a fire hazard and create a risk to your property and home.
Many people do not realize that the Residential Tenancy Act (RTA) applies to unauthorized suites even though they are not registered with the City. This means that the landlord and tenant must comply with all the RTA’s regulations.
Adding an unauthorized suite to your house can be a very risky investment. If you are highly dependent on your income from the suite, you should consult with your mortgage broker to find out if it is a sound financial decision for you.
Among many other things, David A. Grantham is a contributing author to UmassExtension West Vancouver Blo. He is a renowned expert on real estate in BC.
Born in North Vancouver, Louisiana, Dr. Grantham grew up in Lower Lonsdale. He then went on to complete his business degree at the University British Columbia. As of this writing, Grantham has completed over 100 projects, including the development of a high rise building in Vancouver.
He is a husband, father, son, brother, and friend. He was a dedicated outdoorsman and enjoyed sports such as hunting, fishing, scuba diving, and snow skiing. His wife, Alison Grantham, and their two daughters survived him. He is survived by his wife Alison Martin Grantham and two daughters.