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Hey guys,

I just moved into a house in Calgary with a partially developed basement (walls are up and are mostly drywalled, laminate flooring is installed). It still needs lots of work, but some of the structure is there.

Anyway, my wife was thinking that it might be a great idea to convert our basement into a 1 bdrm suite and rent it out. I looked into it a bit and determined that it would be difficult, impossible or at least very expensive to do this legally.

I think we have the correct zoning, but it's the construction that is the issue.

Namely, suites built after 2006 need to have:
-a separate heating/cooling system for the basement
-must be LESS than 753 sq feet.
-must be constructed of 1/2 inch drywall for fireproofness.

Anyway, I just installed a brand new furnace in the house and certainly won't be adding another furnace.

The city website states that illegal suites are not investigated unless there is a complaint (I guess from a neighbor).

The question is: Would any of you consider converting your basement to an illegal suite? I know there are already lots out there in Calgary and I'm curious if any of you have experience in this area? Thanks!
 

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I don't have a problem with an illegal suite. Just because the city isn't regulating it, doesn't mean there is anything wrong with the apartment.

Are you sure about the separate heating/cooling requirement for a basement suite? That really doesn't make any sense to me.

I would think that having separate meters might make sense. Separate temp controls would be good, although I guess that is kind of hard if there is only one heater/ac.
 

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Are you sure about the separate heating/cooling requirement for a basement suite? That really doesn't make any sense to me.
Agreed, but if you look at this link, that's the rule. For once Ontario doesn't seem so bad...

http://www.bobtruman.com/Suites_Legal_or_Illegal/page_1677309.html

Specifically:

What are some of the criteria that determines if a basement suite is legal? The property requires the following to be legal:
-a completely separate entrance
-2 furnaces
-An upgraded floor/ceiling to meet fire regulations
-R-2 zoning with 50' of frontage
-A suite constructed before 1970 that is non-conforming can still be considered legal under the "grandfather" clause
 

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I've read discussions about Calgary basement suites on the public MyREINSpace forums. You might want to check those out. Apparently one solution to the separate heating systems issue is to install electric baseboard heating in the basement suite.
 

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Agreed, but if you look at this link, that's the rule. For once Ontario doesn't seem so bad...

http://www.bobtruman.com/Suites_Legal_or_Illegal/page_1677309.html

Specifically:

What are some of the criteria that determines if a basement suite is legal? The property requires the following to be legal:
-a completely separate entrance
-2 furnaces
-An upgraded floor/ceiling to meet fire regulations
-R-2 zoning with 50' of frontage
-A suite constructed before 1970 that is non-conforming can still be considered legal under the "grandfather" clause
Thanks for providing that link.

At first I thought this requirement was ridiculous - the idea of having 2 furnaces is impossible given the size of most basement apartments.

I'm now wondering what constitutes a "heating system"? Could you put a space heater in the basement? Maybe just install electric heating?

I didn't see anything about cooling system. I don't believe that air conditioners could be mandatory?

If the basement is small, then maybe it's not such a big deal.
 

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Not familiar with all of the rules there.

However...what is the difference between having an illegal suite or simply having a roommate that uses the 2nd kitchen and bath?

I have known of people who have had an illegal suite. The neighbours reported them b/c of all of the cars coming and going from the place.

Personally, I wouldn't be too worried if you are on good terms with the neighbours...and wouldn't worry about the furnace or cooling system. But I would ensure the drywall and windows are up to code. Simply for safety. If there ever was a fire, I would have to know that I at least provided an acceptable escape window, and had drywall to fire code to ensure more escape time.
 

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This is a financial forum. Rules for basement suites are very local. For technical requirements specific to Calgary, talk to the Calgary Bdg. Dept. or look for some real estate blogs in Alberta.

If you have an illegal bsmt. suite and tenant causes a fire, your insurance won't be worth a d**n.
If you have a non-conforming suite and tenant sues you for damages you won't be covered.
Having a fire separation not only protects the tenant, it protects you and your family from tenant's stupidity.
If anyone gets killed in a fire in an illegal suite anywhere in Calgary, you can be sure there will be a sudden inspection crackdown on all such suites.
 

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Discussion Starter #8
I've read discussions about Calgary basement suites on the public MyREINSpace forums. You might want to check those out. Apparently one solution to the separate heating systems issue is to install electric baseboard heating in the basement suite.
Hmm, your point about the electrical baseboard heaters is interesting. That sounds like a good idea.

Not familiar with all of the rules there.

However...what is the difference between having an illegal suite or simply having a roommate that uses the 2nd kitchen and bath?

I have known of people who have had an illegal suite. The neighbours reported them b/c of all of the cars coming and going from the place.

Personally, I wouldn't be too worried if you are on good terms with the neighbours...and wouldn't worry about the furnace or cooling system. But I would ensure the drywall and windows are up to code. Simply for safety. If there ever was a fire, I would have to know that I at least provided an acceptable escape window, and had drywall to fire code to ensure more escape time.
I think a basement becomes a suite when a kitchen is installed. Houses with 2 kitchens are technically illegal suites (I think).

Good point about the drywall. No question, I would have the proper windows installed (I think they're already to code actually).

This is a financial forum. Rules for basement suites are very local. For technical requirements specific to Calgary, talk to the Calgary Bdg. Dept. or look for some real estate blogs in Alberta.

If you have an illegal bsmt. suite and tenant causes a fire, your insurance won't be worth a d**n.
If you have a non-conforming suite and tenant sues you for damages you won't be covered.
Having a fire separation not only protects the tenant, it protects you and your family from tenant's stupidity.
If anyone gets killed in a fire in an illegal suite anywhere in Calgary, you can be sure there will be a sudden inspection crackdown on all such suites.
Insurance is what I'm most worried about... How does insurance work on a basement suite (legal or illegal)? If I had a legal suite, would I need to have separate insurance for the basement suite? Or would it fall under my home policy?
 

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...Insurance is what I'm most worried about... How does insurance work on a basement suite (legal or illegal)? If I had a legal suite, would I need to have separate insurance for the basement suite? Or would it fall under my home policy?
I would talk to your insurance broker. Even with added insurance, if it is an illegal suite, the insurance might not be valid.
 

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There are tons and tons of supposedly "illegal" basement suites in the city of Toronto. The city just looks the other way - if they did not, there would be a serious housing shortage on the less expensive side of the rental market. I think it is probably cheaper for them to look the other way than to try to somehow provide people on the lower end of the finacial spectrum with affordable housing.

I have a basement apartment in my home. It has it's own separate entrance, a full kitchen, bathroom and laundry room, but a shared HVAC system. It's pretty much the norm in my area. When we bought the place, in MLS it said that it had a basement apartment and said something about it not being "zoned" for being used as a rental, yet it was being rented when we bought it.

As for your neighbors, as long as you have someone in there who is quiet and respectful, you shouldn't have an issue (you'd want someone like that anyway). If you suspect it might cause a problem, tell them it's your cousin - you can have family members down there with no questions asked.
 

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I think there's two forms of risk and both are being discussed in this thread - the first is that you violate the property tax laws in your municipality (and some related laws and codes, such as the fire code). The only way to have a basement suite declared "legal" (AFAIK) is to have it inspected for code - it isn't just a property tax grab; there are building codes which are apparently designed for building safety.

The second form of risk is property (and potentially casualty) risk. If you do not disclose to your insurance company that you have an unrelated third party living in a separate suite in your home, you risk that any damage caused by them - or any suit they bring against you - would not be covered by your insurer. The insurer's POV is that they can only insure risks about which they are properly informed; and the duty is on you to disclose. Make sense?
 

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There are tons and tons of supposedly "illegal" basement suites in the city of Toronto. The city just looks the other way - if they did not, there would be a serious housing shortage on the less expensive side of the rental market. I think it is probably cheaper for them to look the other way than to try to somehow provide people on the lower end of the finacial spectrum with affordable housing.

...
Yes, we know, that's why municipalities are starting to pass rules governing them. For a long time basement suites (and boarding/lodging houses) were considered "undesirable" by city planners, and zoning laws discriminated against them. But as you rightly point out there is a legitimate need for such accommodation, and there has been a large underground real estate sector for them. Finally cities (read governments) have woken up to reality and decided to stop pretending they don't exist; and instead created design rules to prevent them from being instant slums.
 

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Basement suites will exist as log as people have huge mortgages and tenants need affordable housing.

Most cities have grants, in Toronto we have the RRAP program, Edmonton has Cornerstones Grant and your city may have something similar to encourage home owner/ investors to comply with the much more expensive building required by law to "comply". You'll have to deal with licensed contractors who perform inspections and charge a premium.
 

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... and in some cases to prevent them from existing.
True, some may use it as an excuse to try to do this. But most governments are paying lip service to accommodating densification and affordable housing. But at the same time in our (relatively) affluent society landlords should not be allowed to charge for windowless basement bedrooms with no heating controls, no sound or fire separation, and no exits. Letting it happen makes a mockery of all our pious words (and legislation) about decent housing standards.
 

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Not an “excuse” ... and not “trying” ... what I’m referring to has nothing to do with the condition of such apartments, but is more related to zoning rules ... (its curious that you would refer to these as “discriminatory” ... that word’s meaning has been sadly diluted in recent years) ... I am simply referencing news stories I recall hearing in the past few years, in which some communities (east of Toronto, IIRC) have succeeded in enforcing an outright ban on rental suites in some areas, for no other reason than they don’t want them to be there ... period ... regardless of conformance to codes.

I agree that there is a genuine need for affordable housing, and that in some communities, basement apartments fulfil this need quite effectively ... personally, I don’t want them on my street ... but I have them and there’s nothing I can do about it ... fortunately, the people currently living in them are quiet people who manage to confine their urination to appropriate facilities, instead of on my front lawn while I’m sitting on the front porch.
 

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toronto has a secondary city runs as 'illegal basement renting'

There are tons and tons of supposedly "illegal" basement suites in the city of Toronto. The city just looks the other way - if they did not, there would be a serious housing shortage on the less expensive side of the rental market. I think it is probably cheaper for them to look the other way than to try to somehow provide people on the lower end of the finacial spectrum with affordable housing.

I have a basement apartment in my home. It has it's own separate entrance, a full kitchen, bathroom and laundry room, but a shared HVAC system. It's pretty much the norm in my area. When we bought the place, in MLS it said that it had a basement apartment and said something about it not being "zoned" for being used as a rental, yet it was being rented when we bought it.

As for your neighbors, as long as you have someone in there who is quiet and respectful, you shouldn't have an issue (you'd want someone like that anyway). If you suspect it might cause a problem, tell them it's your cousin - you can have family members down there with no questions asked.
It is absolutely true. In 95% of neighborhoods there are 90% basements are renting out in this city. That is way of life.
I rent out a condo, with Tax, condo fee, and mortgage payed, about one thousand dollars to 3 thousand dollars lost every year - because of the difficult tenant who causes lot of damage to the property.
Only this 'not legal' basement rental can actually make money - period.
 

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The basement apartment market has been gutted the last few years with tenant profile getting worse. This is due to increased vacancy rates and lowering of rents. Why would a person rent a basement when they can go rent in a building for just a few bucks more?

Rents have also gone down and utilities have gone up. All of these market conditions have contributed to the decline of the basement apartment market in all but the better neighborhoods in the city.
 
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