BETTER Insights: Checklist for a legal secondary suite in YYC

June 22, 2023

With inflation and cost of living as a hot topic for Calgarians, sourcing supplemental income is entering the chat too. For some homeowners, the answer might be right under their feet: a legal secondary suite.

Think your basement has rental potential? If you’re looking to take the next step and open your basement suite up to tenants, make sure you know your stuff. Currently, there are more illegal secondary suites than legal ones – and the City of Calgary is cracking down. If you do it the right way, you’ve got payoff potential to help cover rising rates. 

Here’s our five-step checklist to get your basement rental ready:

1. Understand what a secondary suite is and if it’s right for you.

Secondary suites are a strategic option for homeowners looking to offset some mortgage costs by renting out a separate living space. Secondary suites are often located in a homeowner’s basement, but can also be located on the main or upper floors of the primary residence — this is different from a backyard suite that’s part of a homeowner's garage or laneway.

2. Ensure your basement will be ready with all the required specs.

All secondary suites must have the following:

• Bedroom(s) with egress windows allowing exit or entry in an emergency. These windows must be able to open easily without knowledge of how to operate them, keys or other tools.
• A separate bathroom from the primary residence.
• A separate kitchen from the primary residence.
• An entrance accessible from the outside without passing through the primary residence. Shared stairwells are okay, but both living spaces must have a private entrance with locks.

3. Determine which City of Calgary permits you’ll need.

All secondary suites in Calgary require a development permit and a building permit. A development permit confirms that the rules and planning policies in your zone have been considered prior to the development of a secondary suite. Zoning rules depend on your location in the city. The building permit, however, is mandatory for all construction projects. In addition to the building permit, you need trade specific permits for electrical, gas, and plumbing alterations. This ensures your secondary suite aligns with the city’s building codes and safety requirements — read more on permits for a new secondary suite here.

4. Begin building your secondary suite.

Once the development permit and building permit are approved, you can begin building your secondary suite. During the building process, two sets of inspections are needed. The first are framing/rough-in inspections completed before any insulation, vapour barrier, or drywall is installed. The framing/rough-in inspections cover the following:

• Structural and layout changes.
• Framing changes.
• Windows and exterior door changes.
• All plumbing, gas, electrical and HVAC rough-ins and changes.

The second inspection happens when construction is complete. It ensures all electrical, gas, plumbing, and HVAC finishings are installed correctly, and that building codes and safety requirements are met. Upon approval, your suite is ready for tenants to move in.

You can book your inspections on the City of Calgary's website or your contractor can coordinate the process for you.

5. Promote your basement rental as a Registered Secondary Suite.

This is your stamp of approval from the City after obtaining all necessary permits and meeting Alberta’s Safety Code requirements. There’s even an online registry, allowing potential renters to confirm that your rental is both legal and safe to live in.

If you have a vision for a secondary suite or want to discuss what’s possible, contact Jared at BETTER Basement Finishing to learn more. Let’s work together to make the most of your space!

Jared Buote of BETTER Basement Finishing getting tools from his truck while on site at a client's home

Real project insights


McKenzie Towne | SE Calgary, Alberta

Basement type:


The plan:

Finish the basement as a legal secondary suite ready for rental.

The challenge:

Large house on a small lot, making access difficult and options limited.

The solution:

After some investigation, we created a plan to hide the secondary entrance under the existing front deck. The city approved the permits and it worked perfectly. The new entrance is virtually unnoticeable from the curb and the existing deck is still usable.

“Adding a secondary suite has its challenges, but we’re there every step of the way. We help our customers with design options and suggestions, while taking the guesswork out of permits and safety codes. We’re the experts so you don’t have to be. Our goal is to complete your basement suite and help you see a return on that investment. In the end, we want happy homeowners with happy renters — that makes us happy too. It’s a win-win-win for everyone.” - Jared Buote
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