Written on January 31, 2013
What’s the difference between Nanaimo’s AUTHORIZED suites and LEGAL suites?
1.Authorized/unauthorized suites refer to suites that were built before Feb. 7, 2005. Before that date there were no rules about suites. Once the City of Nanaimo decided to recognize these suites as an important part of city’s “housing stock”, regulations were introduced. Existing suites were then referred to authorized or unauthorized suites. Newly built suites were referred to as legal or illegal suites.
In order for a pre-2005 suite to be considered authorized it must meet all the “life safety issues” that appear in the building code. The main ones are as follows:
-Fire spread – 5/8” drywall in the ceiling and walls separating the suite from the main part of the house. Also there must be a separation of heat venting from the suite.
-Fire egress – windows in all bedrooms (big enough to climb out of), and appropriate door exits.
-Hard-wired smoke alarms
2. Legal/illegal Suites Any suite built after Feb, 2005 must meet all the building code standards in order to be considered a legal suite. In addition to the above issues, these suites must be no more than 40% of the total square footage of the home (using outside measurements). They must also have independent laundry, water shutoff and heating.
3. What if your suite is not authorized or legal? There are many unauthorized and illegal suites in Nanaimo. These are investigated on a “complaint basis”. This means that the City of Nanaimo tolerates the existence of these suites unless there is a complaint made, usually by a neighbour. As of today (Jan 31/13) Nanaimo has a backlog of more than 300 suites to investigate for Life Safety Issues.
4.What happens if you are investigated? Nanaimo City inspectors will give you a list of improvements that need to be made with a deadline. If these improvements are not made then the suite will be decommissioned, usually by removing the 220 wiring for the stove.
5. What if you are buying a home with an unauthorized or illegal suites You can still rent the suite out, but be aware that if a complaint is made against you and the city investigates your suite, you may be facing some expensive upgrades. Income from an unauthorized or illegal suite cannot be counted on; therefore your lender will not accept the rent as part of your income.
6. How many suites are there in Nanaimo? Naturally it is impossible to know how many unauthorized or illegal suites are in the City of Nanaimo. However, we do know that there have been 1,500 legal suites added to Nanaimo’s housing stock since 2005. In 2011 and 2012, 60% of new homes were built with legal suites.
This influx of secondary suites has raised the vacancy rate in Nanaimo to 7% in 2012 (according to CMHC stats). This is good news for renters as the average rental price drops. It is bad news for homeowners who wish to rent out their suites. Landlords have had to drop their prices and work harder to attract good renters.