The Ins and Outs of Secondary Suites

By Pushor Mitchell LLP

Certain Kelowna residents may be able to legally earn money from secondary suites on their property. Those owning single family residences may be permitted (via rezoning approved by city council) to include within these homes a secondary suite or construct an “accessory building” (no closer than 5 m to the principle dwelling) and create a secondary suite within that accessory building. Owners may then rent out this space to supplement mortgage payments or just bank some extra cash. Dwellings in agricultural, rural residential and urban residential zones may all be permitted to utilize such secondary suites.

Of course there are limits and rules applicable to secondary suites. This article provides a brief a summary of the more significant legal restrained and requirements for constructing a secondary suite and is not intended to be a complete explanation of the law. Any construction of secondary suites must conform to the B.C. Building code and all Bylaws and Regulations of the City of Kelowna, most significantly the Building Bylaw and the Consolidated Zoning Bylaw No. 8000.

First off, only one secondary suite may be permitted per single family residence (whether within that residence or in an accessory building) and a secondary suite is not permitted in conjunction with lodgers, bed and breakfast accommodation or a group home. A suite within a single family residence cannot exceed the lesser of 90 m2 or 40% of the total floor area of the single family residence not including garage and/or carport. An accessory building, however, may not exceed the lesser of 90 m2 or 75% of the single family residence not including garage or carport (the maximum height for an accessory building is 4.5 m). The ceiling in secondary suites must be at least 2 m. The required living room size is 10 m2. Any bedrooms in a secondary suite must have functional windows (that open/close) that are at least 380mm high and wide and with a total area of .35 m2. The bottom of the window can only be a maximum of 1.5 m above the floor.

Fire hazard protection is important to the planning of these secondary suites. The building materials between suites, between suites and common corridors, stairs, and other rooms must be able to resist fire for 45 minutes (i.e: 45 minute fire separation). This rating may be reduced to 30 minutes if a photo-electric smoke alarm is installed in each suite and interconnected to each suite (a non-interconnected smoke alarm is required in each suite in the case of 45 minute separation) . All doors in the separate suites must be built so to resist fire for 20 minutes. The heating system in each secondary suite must be separate unless duct smoke detectors are installed in the heating/ventilating system that will alarm each suite. Each suite must have a separate mechanical ventilation system. The ceiling in each suite must be drywalled unless the joist space above the walls is firestopped or tightly stuffed with insulation.

Plumbing works may intersect the fire separation walls. Combustible drain, water, and vent piping may be located within or penetrate through a fire separation if and only if that piping is protected with 12.7 mm gypsum. Any pipe penetrating gypsum must be tight fitted or caulked (gypsum mud not acceptable). Combustible pipe cannot penetrate gypsum membrane on the underside of the floor system. Combustible built-in vacuum system pipe is permitted if protected in the same manner and the outlets are protected with a non-combustible cover.

If you are going to create a secondary suite, then you have to provide parking for your tenant. Three off-street parking spaces must be provided on site (1 for the secondary suite and 2 for the corresponding single family unit). This off-street parking cannot be located in the required front yard with one exception: a maximum of 2 parking spaces may be located in the driveway of the single family residence.

Finally, there are permit fees applicable to construction in general, and the construction of secondary suites is no exception. The following building permit fees apply:

Value of Construction   Fee
$1-$1,000 $45
$1,001 – $100,000 $45 + $8.50 per $1,000 or portion thereof
$100,001 – $500,000 $886.50 + $7 per $1,000 or portion thereof
$500,001 – and up $3686.50 plus $6.25 per $1,000 or portion thereof

In addition to general building fees, if the cost of constructing the secondary suite within the single family residence is more than $50,000, then a $2,500 Development Cost Charge applies. In order to construct an accessory building, one must pay a $578 development application cost; if approved, then a Development Cost Charge of $2,500 also applies to the construction of an accessory building with a secondary suite regardless of the costs. Furthermore, a charge of $575 must be paid in order to zone a single family residence so that it can accommodate a secondary suite (whether within the residence or in an accessory building). It generally takes from 3-6 months if this zoning is to be approved by city council.

Creating a legal secondary suite is not free. The initial investment, for instance, for a $20,000 renovation to create a secondary suite within a single family residence would include zoning and building permit fees of $790 (zoning: $574 + building permit fees: $45 + $170) representing 3.8% of the total costs. Furthermore, the building costs themselves may be higher in complying with the limits and rules outlined in this article. However, owners creating illegal secondary suites risk having those suites shut down if a single complaint is made. Complying with the rules outlined in this article entail paying a premium on the initial investment that will secure future, and possibly permanent cash flows.  

Submitted by Pushor Mitchell summer student, Jeffrey L. Martin