If you are a residential and commercial investment property owner, and are seeking revenue from one or more secondary suites, below are Five Steps Required to Legalize a Basement Suite in the City of Edmonton (note: what is supplied in this article is general information only; municipal Bylaws may be subject to change at any time, and readers are encouraged to contact the appropriate municipality for any related questions):
Step 1: Because a large number of existing properties in the City of Edmonton unfortunately do not have permits for basement suites, if a landlord Buyer desires to achieve ’legal status’ on his rental property (as he or she always should for important legal and insurance liability reasons) he or she must allow for the costs to improve the property including permit applications and upgrades, the extent by which (depending on the inspector's level of experience and competency) could be answered in part during a home inspection (i.e. recommended Buyer’s question to inspector: what exactly would be required to raise this property to 100% compliance with the current Alberta Building Code?) Note that a permit is only required if a suite is being used for renting out to a separate family - not for vacant or occupancy by a single family since there are currently no rules against a single family having a second kitchen existing in the basement.
Step 2: Once the certified home inspector advises an opinion of the extent of renovations and repairs required to raise the property up to the current Alberta Building Code standard, the next step: contact reputable trades and companies for estimates on the work to know the entire cost impact of buying new or upgrading an existing property.
Step 3: Apply to the City of Edmonton for a Building and Development Permit (open the link below) by calling 311 or 780-442-5311 to schedule an appointment:
Step 4: The City may approve and issue the building and development permits for the suite (before visiting the site) based on their review and acceptance of the submitted floor plans, permit fees, and application forms, and then send out an inspector to the property to verify that all renovations have been completed in accordance with the Alberta Building Code (e.g. smoke alarm system wired in, adequate access / egress (separate basement entrance), adequate bedroom window sizes, laundry and furnace considerations, adequate fire separation, adequate parking, etc.) The inspector is prohibited from raising issues that are not contained in the Alberta Building Code (i.e. subjective nonsense) and there are procedures that allow property owners to appeal superfluous requirements or recommendations made by an inspector that may overstep allowable boundaries.
Step 5: Once the City of Edmonton Inspector comes to a property, there is a deadline issued for compliance and re-inspection once any further required improvements are completed. The City currently does not send out random inspectors trying to catch landlords that do not have the proper permits in place, rather they would only inspect a property if there is a problem such as a serious neighbor complaint with justification, Capital Health violation complaint, and / or some other serious issue (e.g. devastating fire) that happens at the house. Once the permit has been received, the landlord could then operate the suite subject to continued adherence to the City of Edmonton’s regulations for suites and also compliance with the Alberta Landlord and Tenancy Act.
Why is it important to legalize basement suites prior to renting out? Answer: in the unfortunate event of a fire, flood, etc. causing property damage and potentially injury or death to a tenant or visitor in a property which did not have legal permits for secondary suites, the property owner could be held liable in the following ways: (a). Nullifcation of insurance coverage by their insurance provider, assuming that a written disclosure of the existence of non-legal suites was not made in advance to the insurance company as part of the insurance policy; (b). Criminal charges by a Crown Prosecutor for criminal negligence (potential fines or jail time); (c). Order from the municipality to evict all tenants and obtain legal status of the suites (i.e. via expensive inspections and upgrading) before renting out again; and (d). Civil charges via tenant lawsuits for monetary losses. A special note that it is currently not legal in Alberta for landlords and tenants to negotiate Tenant Rights under the Landlord and Tenancy Act (i.e. example: cannot disclose a non-legal suite to a tenant, offer cheaper rent, and negotiate with the tenant to sign away their legal rights in exchange for accepting a non-legal suite property or similar landlord favours). The bottom line: all residential and commercial property owners are strongly encouraged to obtain all legal permits in advance before renting out to tenants for rental income - PERIOD.
The above are the steps required by the City of Edmonton to build a new basement suite or retrofit an existing basement suite to be considered legal for the purpose of renting out to a separate family. The City of Edmonton Planning and Development Department can be reached at 311 or 780-442-5311 for clarification or to answer any general or specific property-related questions because rules and regulations are subject to change as is the City’s interpretation of these Bylaws. For jurisdictions outside Edmonton, contact the respective City, Town, or County Council responsible for setting and enforcing local basement suite bylaws. Additional municipal information includes grants given to homeowners who fully or partially upgrade a secondary suite to current codes.
[Article written and ©2009, ©2010, ©2020 by Kelly Grant, M.Eng., ABR, NCSO, P.Eng. - REALTOR® at MaxWell POLARIS in Edmonton, AB]
Disclaimer: for those readers not currently represented by another licensed REALTOR®, to obtain more information on this topic and / or if you will be selling or buying in the Greater Edmonton Area, call Kelly at 780-414-6100 (pager); text Kelly at 780-717-9290; or send an email to SOLD@KellyGrant.ca to schedule a confidential appointment.