Even with major building code relaxations given to these contained spaces, there can be a number of complications that can get in the way of legalizing your unregistered basement suite. From simple elements such as ratio of basement suite to owner space, fire separations to the location of entrances, there’s a lot to be considered.
In this article well break down what a legal suite requires and what you can do determine what that means for your particular set of circumstances. But before we get started, you’re going to need to collect a few things so you can collect your thoughts. Those include:
Changing the zoned use of your property requires seeking permission from your municipal authorities. We do that by going through a development application process prior to a building permit.A natural starting point, before much effort is made we need to confirm if a basement suite is allowed under the zoning for your property. This is not typically an issue for most homeowners but in rare cases you’ll find one of three things:
- You’re zoned for a outright use of a single-family dwelling with the ability to conditionally add a secondary suite (basement suite). This requires seeking permission through a development application process prior to a building permit.
- You’re property is zoned such that basement suites are not allowed. This would require a development process and a change of zoning.
- Your property has a coach home already. It’s a one or the other kind of situation and with a coach home in place, a secondary suite isn’t an option here.
In order to determine your zoning, the simplest way to find out is to stop and chat with your building department.
They’ll be able to lookup your zoning and give you a handout on their particular basement suite process.
Alternately, you can get online with Google Chrome or Mozilla Firefox and launch a search window for “[Your Municipality Name] GIS”. Once loaded, you can search your address and click on “Property Report” which will list a number of public details including the zoning designation.
With the zoning information in hand, you do an online search of “[Your Municipality Name] [zoning designation] zoning bylaw” which should get you a PDF of your zoning bylaw. A skim through that document should describe the outright and conditional uses for properties within that designation. Your looking to find secondary suites as an outright or allowable use for your homes zone.
If you’re still unsure, a phone call to city hall should confirm for you the details described above.
There’s single bigger limiter to obtaining a legal basement suite then BC Building Code requirement of “a secondary suite shall have a maximum gross floor area of 90 m2 (968.8 ft2) or 40% of the habitable floor area of the principal dwelling, whichever is less.”
In past number of years, municipal requirements to conform to the code definition of a basement suite have become more stringent.
While at first glance it may seem like not that big of a deal but in reality, not conforming to the definition of a suite means planning staff and building inspectors can’t treat it as a suite either. This is why we need to complete the next steps of documenting your current floor space and measuring it against the BCBC Building Code definition.
Collect your tools & using a tape measure at ground level, complete a baseline measurement around the exterior of your entire home. Using the sketch example, draw out areas within your home taking care to think about your space versus the tenants.
These are approximations so don’t worry about super accurate. Exterior areas such as deck, carports or attached garages are excluded from these calculations.
Once measured and drawn out on a basic level, complete the math to get your overall finished square footage and the percentage used by the suite. If you have a large footprint in your home, then the odds are the 40% won’t be a problem but the max 968 ft2 limitation could be.
On the flip side, if you have a small footprint home and want the entire basement to be a suite, that could be a problem because it would be close to 50% of the total finished floor space and thus not conform to the definition of a basement suite.
Did you suite space measure up as less than 968ft2? Did your suite come in at less than 40% of the total finished interior square footage in your home?
Now that we know that can get a legal secondary suite, it’s time to get a little more technical with municipal requirements. As we work our way into your home, we need to consider how
A two-bedroom basement suite will require a minimum of three on-site parking stalls. your new tenant or tenants will get to and from their suite and where they’ll be able to park their vehicle (or bicycle).
All municipalities require that landlords provide on site parking for at least one vehicle in addition to at least one space for themselves.
In places like Kelowna and West Kelowna, they require one (1) on site parking for every bedroom within your basement suite. That means that a two-bedroom secondary suite will require a minimum of three (3) on site parking spaces in order to receive approval.
In-line parking is often approved but there is little leniency for on street parking unless it’s a unique situation. Interior parking spaces such as attached or detached garages also count towards on-site parking but if you plan to have a tenant
Bedroom egress (or emergency exiting) is a big deal and it all comes down to window size. Assuming you’ll be attempting to use an existing window for any bedrooms your considering, make sure those windows meet the BC building code requirement of having at least 3.77ft2 of opening and a minimum opening width of 15″.
One window for each bedroom is required but only within spaces that would be considered sleeping quarters.
Additionally, make sure the window your wanting to make the egress window is in a location that is easily accessible and visible to the average person in the room.
Fire separations in basement suites are very important and treated as such within the BC Building Code. Secondary suites are supposed to have 5/8″ thick Type X gypsum wall board on the ceilings between units. However, exceptions to the thickness can be made so long as an alternate solution is employed that alleviates the increased fire risk.
Now this isn’t always easy to do and we acknowledged it may be difficult to perform without cutting into the ceiling material. The simplest location to check the thickness of your home ceiling finish is from around any light or fan hole.
From this location you can measure the thickness by removing the shroud on any recessed pot lights, taking the cover off any junction boxes or pulling down the cover on your bathroom fan.
Building code is modeled after the behavior of a really tall individual who doesn’t function well after dark. As a result, basement suite headroom requirements can seem excessive and heavy handed at times. However, there’s no arguing the importance of people being to able to escape in an emergency situation.
Currently you must have clear egress from areas such as bedrooms to a minimum headroom clearance of 2.0 m or 6′-6.75″.
Any drop beams, bulkheads or doorways that are lower than this minimum height and are emergency access pathways will have to be renovated as part of your basement suite permit process.