Authorized vs Unauthorized Basement Suites

At some point or another, many of us have lived on the lowest floor of a single-family home. The rent is less expensive, but you miss out on a few essentials of living comfortably; for example, tall ceilings, natural light, and rooms that aren’t overly stuffy.

Today, if you want to rent out a basement suite, it must meet a stringent set of building codes. Authorized secondary suites aren’t like the dimly lit, cramped basements of your childhood memories. These suites have windows, moisture control, and adequate ceiling height.

Even though unauthorized secondary suites are incredibly common in Vancouver & the Fraser Valley, that doesn’t mean they aren’t without issues. Does your home have an unauthorized basement suite? You might want to consider bringing it up to code before you sell it.

Here’s what you need to know about authorized and unauthorized suites in a single-family dwelling:

Differences Between an Authorized and Unauthorized Basement Suite

An authorized suite has everything you’d expect in a typical primary residence: a bedroom, a bathroom with a shower, and a cooking area. It might share common areas with the rest of the household, like a laundry room or living room. And most importantly, it adheres to the BC building code. 

An unauthorized suite can still have a separate living area that includes a bedroom, kitchen, and bathroom. But it’s still missing other features that are necessary; things like a separate entrance, adequate door heights, and smoke alarms. An unauthorized suite is still liveable, but it isn’t entirely safe for the tenant or the property owner.

Can You Sell/Rent Out a House with an Unauthorized Basement Suite?

Many single-family dwelling houses have an unused basement. This extra space gives homeowners an opportunity to generate extra income. That’s why so many people will rent out an unauthorized suite, despite the risks involved with doing so. 

Here’s something you might not expect: the residential tenancy act (RTA) applies to all rental suites. Whether or not the suite meets building codes, you must still comply with the residential tenancy act. 

So, yes, you can sell or rent a single-family dwelling without an authorized suite. But we don’t recommend doing so. 

Benefits of an Authorized Basement Suite

If an authorized suite is so beneficial, why do so many homeowners have unauthorized ones? The reality is that you can still find a tenant for an unauthorized suite, given the high demand for housing. 

There’s a reason why so many homeowners leave their basement suites unauthorized: it’s cheaper than renovating. As you probably already know, any renovation project will cost you a considerable expense and chunk of your time.

But bringing your rental suites up to code is well worth your while. It pays to follow all the rules. Here’s why:

  • Get the right home insurance coverage. It’s every homeowner’s worst nightmare: a flood or fire could result in extensive damage to your home. When you go to file a claim with your insurance company, it may get rejected. Your unauthorized suite could be to blame. Make sure you have the right home insurance coverage by authorizing secondary suites.
  • Peace of mind. Did you know that anyone can report you for having an unauthorized basement suite? That includes either a tenant or neighbour. If anyone is injured on your property, you could be sued for having an unauthorized suite. Avoid costly penalties by ensuring your secondary suite meets building codes. 
  • Add value to your home. Ready to sell your home? The words “authorized basement suite” are a major selling point to buyers. Getting your secondary suite approved will make the selling process that much more profitable. On the other hand, buyers will be hesitant to purchase a home with an unauthorized suite; they know it carries a greater risk. 
  • Unauthorized income won’t help you with financing. Having trouble financing a mortgage? If your rental suite is unauthorized, any income it generates won’t be considered by the bank. This will hurt your chances of securing the mortgage you need for a new home.

Authorizing Your Basement Suite

You’re looking to take your secondary suite from “unauthorized” to “completely authorized”. It’s time to renovate so that the suite meets the province’s standards. How do you do it?

Let’s start with one of the trickier things: the ceilings must be of adequate height. It also needs sufficient natural lighting–you may need to install a few windows. And since it’s in a basement, moisture control is necessary; conditions that are too humid can lead to mound growth & respiratory symptoms. 

Next, the suite needs a separate entrance. An access door leading directly to the suite is preferable. This gives the tenant a bit of privacy when they’re coming in and out of their separate living area. 

You also need to provide adequate parking; be mindful of the zoning bylaws in your area.

Now it’s time to look at the utilities in your single-family home. Secondary suites need to meet fire safety standards, so they must include smoke alarms. It’s a good idea to get the plumbing and electrical inspected; this will ensure that all systems meet the BC building code.

Finally, you’re required to obtain a permit and pass an inspection. You’ll need to contact the city your in to get your suite approved. 

Are you planning to build a new authorized suite and attach it to your single-family home (for example, a laneway house)? If so, make sure it complies with zoning bylaws and building codes in your area. 

So, to recap: if you have an unauthorized suite, you should consider getting it authorized. Doing so can improve the value of your home and prevent you from any trouble. If you have an unauthorized suite, we suggest waiting until it’s authorized before selling your home or renting it out.

And if you’re looking for a single-family dwelling, be wary of ones with unauthorized basement suites. An authorized suite will save you time, stress, and money.

With the help of an experienced realtor, you can sell your primary residence much faster than you thought. Looking for a local real estate agent? Contact Michael Ree *PREC with RE/MAX CIty Realty 778-386-9686

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